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Spreading information on risks of drug use: A European challenge

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DrugOverdoseYoung Europeans are less informed about the effects and risks of drugs than just a few years ago. While they widely use the Internet to gather knowledge, a new Eurobarometer survey shows that compared to 2011, respondents are less likely to have received such information from most sources, in particular from media campaigns and school prevention programmes.

More than one quarter of young people (29%) say they have not been informed at all in the past year about the effects and risks of so-called legal highs – currently legal substances that imitate the effects of illegal drugs. This comes at a time when the number of young people saying they have used 'legal highs' has risen to 8%, from 5% in 2011.

More than 13,000 citizens aged 15-24 were interviewed for the Eurobarometer 'Young People and Drugs' across the EU. Drug use and drug-related problems continue to be a major concern for EU citizens. They are also a significant public health and public safety issue. According to studies by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), drug experimentation often starts in the school years, and it is estimated that one in four 15-16 year-olds have used an illicit drug. In recent years, the use of 'legal-highs' has become increasingly popular, and the European Commission is working to strengthen the EU's ability to protect young people by reducing the availability of harmful substances, as part of an overall drug policy regulatory framework.

As the new figures confirm, increasing knowledge and spreading information is another crucial task. The European Commission has used funds from five EU financial programmes to support a number of projects aimed at, among others, boosting detection and identification of new psychoactive substances and the risks associated with them. A number of projects also help those encountering and charged with dealing with these drugs on the ground. A new report published today (21 August) gives an overview of 18 projects that have received such funding since 2007.

Activities supported by the Commission, some of which are yet to be completed, range from developing improved means of detecting and analysing new psychoactive substances to training those working in places where drug use might occur (such as bars or nightclubs) in some Member States so that they can identify acute health problems related to these drugs and aid those affected. A number of projects dealt with spreading knowledge and advice, through means such as websites, telephone hotlines and sending volunteers to big festivals. Other projects for example fostered cooperation and the exchange of information among national prosecutors and law enforcement authorities.

Background

On 17 September 2013, the Commission proposed to strengthen the European Union’s ability to respond to 'legal highs' by introducing a quicker mechanism to withdraw harmful psychoactive substances from the market (IP/13/837 and MEMO/13/790). On 17 April 2014, the European Parliament voted to back the draft regulation (IP/14/461). To become law, the Commission's proposal needs to be adopted by the Member States in Council, following the ordinary legislative procedure.

EU countries have flagged more than 360 new psychoactive substances through the Early Warning System since 1997. Ten substances have been submitted to control measures across the EU, following proposals from the European Commission – most recently, Mephedrone, 4-MA and 5-IT.

On 16 June this year, the European Commission proposed to ban four new psychoactive substances which simulate the effects of illicit drugs such as heroin or LSD - MDPV, 25I-NBOMe, AH-7921 and methoxetamine. In addition, the European Commission requested the Scientific Committee of EMCDDA to conduct risk assessments on two more new psychoactive substances – 4,4’-DMAR and MT-45 - to see if there are grounds to propose bans later this year.

More information

Eurobarometer 'Young People and Drugs' and specific results for your country regarding young people and drugs: link
European Commission: Drug control policy
European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 'European Drug Report' 2014
Homepage of Justice Commissioner Martine Reicherts
Follow Martine Reicherts on Twitter and on Facebook

ANNEXES – Results of Eurobarometer 'Young People and Drugs'

Experience of new psychoactive substances

The percentage of young people who say they have used so-called legal highs has risen slightly compared to three years ago: 8% of them now say they have done so, with 1% having tried them in the last 30 days, 3% in the last 12 months and 4% more than 12 months ago. In 2011, 5% of young people had claimed to have used 'legal highs’. Most respondents that have experienced new psychoactive substances in the last 12 months obtained them from a friend (68%). Just over one quarter (27%) bought them from a drug dealer, while 10% purchased them in a specialised shop and 3% bought them on the Internet.

Attitudes towards drugs policy

There remains a strong consensus amongst young people that heroin, cocaine and ecstasy should remain banned (with 96%, 93% and 91% saying so, respectively) – these results have not changed since the last survey in 2011. Opinions about cannabis are more divided. Just over half say that it should continue to be banned (53%), while 45% think it should be regulated. Compared to 2011, attitudes towards alcohol and tobacco have become more restrictive: respondents are now far more likely to say that these substances should be regulated, and less likely to say they should be unrestricted.

Most respondents are in favour of bans on legal highs that mimic the effects of illicit drugs. Just over one third (35%) think that these substances should be banned under any circumstances, while 47% think they should only be banned if they pose a health risk. More than one in ten think that regulation of these substances should be introduced (15%), while only 1% think nothing should be done.

Awareness and information sources on illicit drugs and legal highs

The Internet is the most important source of information on illicit drugs and drug use for young people: more than half of all respondents said they would turn to it (59%). The internet is thus much more widely mentioned than friends (36%), doctors, nurses or health professionals (31%), parents or relatives (25%), or specialized drugs counsellors or centres (21%). Relatively few respondents would turn to the police (13%), the media (10%), someone at school or work (9%), social or youth workers (7%), or a telephone helpline (4%).

However, young people are now less likely to have received information about the risks and effects of drugs from almost all of these sources than in 2011. In particular, respondents are much less likely to say they received information from media campaigns and school prevention programmes (-6 and -9 percentage points, respectively).

As far as information on legal highs is concerned, the Internet (30%) and media campaigns (29%) are the most important sources of information for young people. More than one quarter (29%) say they have not been informed at all in the past year about new substances that imitate the effects of illicit drugs.

(MAX. 3 ANSWERS)

Perceived health risks of using drugs

Almost all respondents consider regular use of cocaine or ecstasy may pose a high risk to health (96% and 93%, respectively), while a further 3% and 5% respectively considered regular use may carry a medium risk. The risks were perceived as lower for those who have only used these drugs once or twice. Just over half (57%) said using ecstasy once or twice may have a high risk, 29% said the risk may be medium, and 9% considered the risk may be low. However, just 2% thought there may be no risk in using ecstasy once or twice. A large majority also consider regular use of new substances that imitate illicit drugs may carry a high risk to health (87%), while 9% think the risk may be moderate and 1% that it may be low. Respondents are less likely to think that using these new substances once or twice may pose a health risk, with 57% saying the risk may be high, 29% that there may be a medium risk and 9% that the risk may be low. Just 1% think there may be no health risk in this scenario.

Drugs

Demystifying the drug menace: Insights from convicted drug sellers

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Recent and ongoing issue pertaining to narcotic drug usage and drug selling in Indian Film Industry has caught the attention of entire South East Asia. One recent report written by Gan in American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that the cost of drug abuse is more than $740 billion annually, writes Indian Institute of Management-Rohtak Director Professor Dheeraj Sharma.

Substance abuse results in additional burden on healthcare costs, crimes, and lost productivity. In last decade, India has witnessed several instances of increased availability of drugs and increased number of arrest, trials, and conviction under the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

Given the paucity of studies related to illegal drugs and drugs selling in India, an effort was undertaken by the author with his research team that was involved in jail related projects from 2011 to 2016 in various states, to examine the issue of illegal drugs and drugs selling from the perspective of those either convicted of such offenses. Data for the survey were collected from convicted drug peddlers across three states in India – Punjab, Gujarat, and Delhi.

They were repeatedly assured that their responses for this survey shall remain anonymous and confidential. Data were collected by a team of research associates trained in the local language of the state. Brislin protocol using back translation was followed to translate the questionnaire. A total of 872 responses were collected across the three states in India. All these 872 were convicted under Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The participation for the survey was voluntary.

The results indicated many counter-intuitive insights. First, 78.10% of drug peddlers reported that they used to consume drugs and selling of drugs was limited to those amongst their friends and family. Of these, around 56.54% of respondents became drug peddlers as a result of being a regular drug user. A majority of the respondents (86.70%) argued that they were trapped into drug trafficking by their drug suppliers with whom they had frequent interaction owing their consumption habits. The survey questionnaire also included questions on understanding the nature of the drug trade. 77.06% of the respondents asserted that drugs are not indigenous and most of the drugs are brought from other countries. 81.88% also reported that the drugs they used to sell were routed to India from other foreign countries.

The peddlers were also asked to give inputs relating to the country they think the drugs are infiltrated in India. Majority of the drug peddlers (83.94%) reported that the drugs are infiltrated in India from Pakistan. This was followed by Nepal (5.05%), and Afghanistan (4.24%). The detailed distribution of the countries is shown in the graph below. Similarly, we also asked them to report how drug suppliers operate and were asked to rank them based on the frequency of the method used.

For our analysis, we considered the mean ratings of all the respondents to rank the modus operandi of drug peddlers in India. The results show that cross border transactions are the most common form of operation. This is followed by tourists, Illegal, college students, and business people. The most favorable place to sell drugs according to the respondents were (ranked from best to worst): 1 = Pubs and Bars, 2 = Restaurants and hotels, 3 = Colleges and Universities, 4 = Drug rehab centers, 5 = schools.

The drug peddlers were also asked questions pertaining to the profitability of the drug trade. Almost the majority of the respondents reported that on an average a profit of more than 10 lakhs is reaped from selling drugs worth INR 1 lakh. It demonstrates that the drug trade has a profitability of more than 1000 percentage. Lastly, two questions pertaining to the society and drugs were also asked. More than 85% of the respondents (86.12%) believed that music that promotes drugs has increased the drug consumption among the youth.

They contended that consumption of drugs was accompanied by music that talked about drug use and absurdity of life. On a similar note, 79.36 percent believed that Bollywood movies that glorify drugs has resulted in an increased intention to consume drugs. Specifically, the respondents reported that almost all of their clients and they themselves were trying to imitate some actor/actress from Bollywood and that drugs would result in them feeling confident about themselves. On measurement scale for self-esteem, most respondents reported very low self-esteem (scale of 1 to 7 average score was 2.4).

The study does provide some insights from the perspective of those convicted in the illegal drug related cases. Consequently, it may be useful to counsel individual at early age, particularly in schools about the menace of drug abuse. Also, health facilities and provision of rehabilitation must be strengthened. Given that some Bollywood movies play a role in glorification of consumption and trade of illegal drugs, akin to the warning that is delayed for cigarette smoking in movies, there needs to be similar warning when characters are shown consuming drugs.

In other words, the viewers should warned of penalties that arise from consumption and trade of drugs. More specifically, random drug tests in institutions could be instituted. Also, given that majority of the drugs are infiltrated from neighboring countries, the border deterrence could be enhanced. Further, college students and pubs are the most common target consumer segment for drug peddlers. Hence, the administrators of academic institutions should take appropriate measures and test for drug abuse.

Also, pubs should be regulated. Finally, given that drugs are a lucrative trade, it is likely to see more prevalence in places where there is wealth. Hence, metropolitan cities need to develop special units or strengthen the existing special units for dealing with illegal drug cases.

  • The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions of EU Reporter.

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Drugs

Fight against illicit drugs: Launch of the European Drug Report 2020  

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On 22 September, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson participated in the virtual launch of the European Drug Report 2020, together with Laura d'Arrigo, chairwoman of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's Management Board, and the Agency's Director Alexis Goosdeel.

Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Organized crime groups quickly adapted their drugs operations to the new situation brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Under the Security Union Strategy, we are working to reduce both the demand and supply of illicit drugs.”

Commissioner Johansson said: "The high levels of cocaine and heroin seized show that criminals continue exploiting supply chains, shipping routes and large ports to traffic drugs, threatening the health and security of those living in Europe. Modern organized crime needs a modern organized response. This is why we are working with our European Agencies to dismantle drug trafficking networks and disrupt production while improving prevention and access to treatment.”

The European Drug Report analyses recent drug use and market trends across the EU, Turkey and Norway. This year's report shows an increase in cocaine availability with seizures at a record high amounting to 181 tonnes, an almost doubling of heroin seizures to 9.7 tonnes and high availability of high purity drugs in the EU.

It also explores the appearance of novel synthetic opioids, of particular health concern and addresses the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.  The report itself is available online, together with a full press release by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

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European Commission secures EU access to #Remdesivir for treatment of #COVID-19

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On 28 July, the European Commission signed a contract with the pharmaceutical company Gilead to secure treatment doses of Veklury, the brand name for Remdesivir. As from early August onwards, and in order to meet immediate needs, batches of Veklury will be made available to member states and the UK, with the coordination and support of the Commission. The Commission's Emergency Support Instrument will finance the contract, worth a total of €63 million.

This will ensure the treatment of approximately 30,000 patients presenting severe COVID-19 symptoms. This will help to cover the current needs over the next few months, while ensuring a fair distribution at EU level, based on an allocation key, taking into account the advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The Commission is now also preparing a joint procurement for further supplies of the medicine, expected to cover additional needs and supplies as from October onwards. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “In recent weeks, the Commission has been working tirelessly with Gilead to reach an agreement to ensure that stocks of the first treatment authorised against COVID-19 are delivered to the EU. A contract has been signed yesterday, less than a month after the authorization of Remdesivir, which will allow the delivery of treatments from early August for thousands of patients. The Commission is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to secure access to safe and efficient treatments, and is supporting the development of vaccines against coronavirus. Yesterday's agreement is another important step forward in our fight to overcome this disease.”

A press release is available online.

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