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Tuesday, 25 May, 1999, 13:59 GMT 14:59 UK
Britain tops drug league

Young people in Britain are reported to be taking up to five times more illegal drugs than their European counterparts.

The most recent annual report of the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), published in December, showed that British people in their teens and 20s were more likely to take illegal drugs than young people in countries like Germany and France.

Britain topped the western European league on ecstasy and amphetamines and came second for cocaine and cannabis.

Nine per cent of young people in the UK said they had tried ecstasy, compared with only 2.8% of Germans, 3.1% of French and 1% of Belgians and Swedes.

And as many as 16% of British young people said they had tried amphetamines, compared with 1.6% of French people and 4% of Germans.

Cocaine

Britain came second in the amount of young people who take cocaine. Four per cent admit to taking the drug.

Spain topped the league, but French, Swedish and Belgian young people were half as likely as the British to try the drug.



Only the Danes beat the UK for cannabis use
Around 36% of Britons admitted to taking cannabis - the most common illegal drug in Europe, compared with 25.7% of French people, 21% of Germans and 22% of Spanish people.

A smaller Danish survey showed cannabis use running at 43% among teenagers and people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.

Heroin use was low across Europe. In most countries, less than 1% of people had tried the drug.

However, it accounted for the most health problems. The report says there are up to one million heroin addicts in Europe.

Some countries have noted a small rise in its use.

Drug trends

The report said use of amphetamines was on the rise across Europe, while cannabis had stabilised.

Ecstasy had also stabilised in countries such as the UK where it had been around for some time. The report said it was becoming "just another drug on the market".

Drugs in Schools
There was a modest rise in cocaine use, but crack cocaine appeared to be a localised problem.

There was some evidence that new designer drugs were beginning to catch on in some countries.

But in general death rates from illegal drug use were stable or falling.

The majority of deaths were due to intravenous drug use which increases the risk of other infections, such as hepatitis C and Aids.

Hepatitis C rates were still very high, but new HIV infections were falling despite the fact that drug users were continuing to share needles.

Although drug laws vary considerably across western Europe, with some countries not imprisoning people caught in possession of illegal drugs, drug users made up as much as 40% of the prison population of the region.

Eastern Europe

For the first time, the EMCDDA report looks at illegal drug use in Eastern Europe and found worrying trends.

It said few resources were put into treatment of reducing the demand for illegal drugs.

"Despite the efforts made in recent years, drug demand reduction is still a low priority in most countries or is no priority at all," it stated.



Injecting drugs is the main cause of drugs health problems and deaths
The report reiterated the common message that the most effective way of preventing drug use by young people was beginning school drug education courses at an early age.

It said advertising campaigns did little to change people's attitudes to drugs or their behaviour.

The EMCDDA wants a more coordinated approach to gathering drug information and strategies to reduce drug problems.

Since 1987, illegal drugs have been on the EU's agenda, with the focus being mainly on reducing their supply.

Culture and supply

The British government issued a White Paper on tackling the UK drugs problem, stressing the need to reduce use among young people.

The Standing Conference on Drug Abuse says use of illegal drugs has increased eightfold among 15-year-olds in the last 10 years and fivefold among 12-year-olds. It believes the problem is bad in Britain because of cultural and supply reasons.

Turning Point, the drug and alcohol abuse charity, said much of the rise in UK abuse was due to the advent of recreational drugs, such as ecstasy.

"The seeds were set in the 60s and 70s with the hippy culture. Recreational drugs target a much younger age group," said a spokesman.

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