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BBC EU correspondent Colin Blane
"The report says heroin causes the most drug problems"
 real 28k

Monday, 22 November, 1999, 18:12 GMT
'Millions have tried heroin in EU'
Hard drugs are still claiming up to 7,000 lives a year in Europe

As many as 5 million people in the European Union may have tried heroin and the problem is spreading, an EU drugs investigation has found.

The annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) also said around 40 million people in Europe had tried cannabis.

"Heroin continues to present major health and social problems in the EU," spokesman Richard Hartnell said at the launch of the report in Berlin.

Cannabis is gaining in acceptability
Researchers found that an estimated 1-1.5 million of the EU's 375 million people were "problem drug users", most involved with heroin.

The report said most of the 6,000-7,000 deaths from drug overdoses in the EU each year were heroin-related.

It identified some encouraging signs - noting that problem drug use appeared to be largely stable in most EU countries, with many nations seeing a drop in the number of drug-related deaths.

However the agency said there could be no complacency because abuse was spreading increasingly from the cities to smaller towns and villages.

Casual cannabis use

The survey found that in many EU countries there appeared to be a trend towards regarding cannabis use as normal rather than deviant.

British and Irish schoolchildren were particularly experienced drug users, the researchers found.

In these countries, 40% of 15-16 year olds admitted having smoked a joint, compared to around 5% in Portugal and Finland, the report showed.

Overall, in countries with high levels of regular cannabis use, such as Germany, Britain or the Netherlands, the number of users had stabilised or even fallen.

American use down

The findings are closely mirrored by a study conducted in the United States.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, a private non-profit organisation, said that after years of increasing drug use, teenagers' use of banned substances remained steady between 1997 and 1999.

Marijuana use, which had the highest increase in the early 1990s, showed a slight but steady decline over the same period.

And for the first time since 1993, teenagers between 13 and 18 appeared to have used less cocaine.

Only 7% of those surveyed said they had used some form of cocaine in 1999, compared with 8% in 1998. The findings are qualified by a margin of error of +/-1.8%.

Researchers said the results indicated that attitudes to drugs among US teenagers might be changing.

"A major element of this growing social disapproval of drugs among teens seems to stem from a change in how culture is disassociating 'coolness' from drug use," said Barbara Delaney, a spokeswoman for the Partnership.

"Cultural icons - especially musicians and actors - are less likely to be seen as purveyors of marijuana or drug 'coolness'," she said.

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See also:
22 Nov 99 |  UK
Britain cannabis capital of Europe
26 Aug 99 |  Scotland
Prisons 'no longer overcrowded'
23 Sep 99 |  Europe
Drugs lesson from Switzerland

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