More 'legal highs' available in EU, says drug agency

Pills, file pic
Image caption The number of new synthetic drugs detected last year was almost twice the number in 2011

Synthetic drugs are emerging at an ever faster rate in Europe, says the EU's drug agency, with so-called legal highs often being shipped in from Asia.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction detected 73 new synthetic drugs last year, compared to just 49 in 2011.

The drugs agency said the threats emerging from Europe's drug problem challenged both policy and practice.

Its annual report described the EU's drugs problem as "in a state of flux".

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstroem expressed concern that a quarter of European adults - some 85 million people - had used an illicit drug.

"We are faced with an ever more complex stimulant market and a relentless supply of new drugs which are increasingly diverse," she said.

"The fact that over 70 new drugs have been detected in the last year is proof in itself that drug policies need to adapt to changing drug markets."

Among the 73 new psychoactive substances officially notified for the first time via the EU early warning system last year, 30 were synthetic cannabinoids, which mimic the effects of cannabis, said the European Drug Report 2013, launched at the agency's Lisbon headquarters on Tuesday.

"These products, which can be extremely potent, have now been reported in virtually all European countries," it said.

In a separate study conducted with the European police agency, Europol, the EMCDDA found synthetic drugs were now often imported in bulk from China and India for processing and packaging as legal highs - rather than being made in secret European labs.

But the annual drug report noted more positive developments where established drugs were concerned, reporting fewer new users of heroin, less injecting, and the declining use of cannabis and cocaine in some countries.

While the report noted an increase in the number of treatment centres for drug users, however, it highlighted the need for national authorities to put long-term support in place for addicts and former addicts, in the face of public spending cuts.

Given the long-term nature of heroin problems in particular, governments will have to invest more on continuity of care and social reintegration, it adds.

The agency's unique work analysing data from all EU states and several neighbouring countries is keenly followed by policymakers worldwide, says the BBC's Alison Roberts in Lisbon, not least because of the eminently global nature of the markets for many illicit drugs.

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