Drug use in Europe is up, EU drug agency says

Drug use among young Europeans is rising, as are the number of services available for those needing help to kick the habit, the EU drug agency said Thursday. But while "drug-related treatment has increased over recent years ... there is still much to be done to improve the response to drug use in Europe," said the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Center for Drug Addiction in a 2004 drug use report.

Fewer Europeans are puffing, snorting and injecting illegal drugs than Americans, but those who do are in the prime of life, the report found. "Drug use in Europe remains largely a phenomenon of the young, and of young men in particular," it said.

Across Europe, use of marijuana, cocaine and other stimulants, such as the party drug Ecstasy, now the second most popular drug after cannabis, is up, according to the report, based on data provided by the 25 EU countries, plus Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Norway. Use of those drugs was particularly high in Britain, Spain, France and the Czech Republic.

While an average of 12 percent of Europeans used cannabis in 2004, the rate was 23 percent among Czechs, 19 percent among the French and British and 17 percent among Spaniards, the report said.

Europeans have, however, bucked the global trend and are not using more methamphetamine, a drug that can be made in backroom labs from over-the-counter medicines. Its growing use has worried authorities worldwide, especially in the United States, Australia, parts of Africa and much of Southeast Asia.

Needle and syringe exchange programs, which give drug injectors sterile equipment to lessen the chances for infection, are now found in most EU countries, the report said. Substitution treatment where addictive drugs are replaced with less dangerous substitutes is also on the rise.

"Half a million Europeans receive substitution treatment. That should be considered a success of the European anti-drug policy," Wolfgang Goetz, director of the drugs monitoring center, told journalists at the European Parliament, where the report was presented. Evidence shows that drug treatment works better than imprisonment, the report said. And with prisons becoming overcrowded in many countries, it is also cheaper, reports the AP. I.L.

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