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UK tops young cocaine users list

Published 04/06/2015

Around one in 24 people aged 15-34 in the UK admitted taking cocaine in the last 12 months, figures for 2013/14 show
Around one in 24 people aged 15-34 in the UK admitted taking cocaine in the last 12 months, figures for 2013/14 show

Britain has the highest rate of cocaine use among young adults in Europe, a report indicates.

Around one in 24 (4.2%) people aged between 15 and 34 in the UK admitted taking the drug in the last 12 months, figures for 2013/14 showed.

This was the largest proportion of all countries for which statistics were available, a nalysis by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) showed.

It is almost 1% above Spain, which was second highest with 3.3% of youngsters taking cocaine in the previous year, and more than double the EU average of 1.9%.

The finding was one of a series of figures showing that the UK has some of the highest rates of drug use in Europe.

The report also showed that:

:: Nearly one in 10 people (9.5%) in the UK aged between 15 and 64 have taken cocaine in their lifetime - the second highest in Europe

:: One in nine (11.1%) have used amphetamines at some point - the highest in Europe. The prevalence in the last year (1.5%) was exceeded by several other countries

:: Close to a 10th (9.3%) of UK adults have taken ecstasy - the highest in Europe. The proportion of young people who took the party drug in the previous year, 3%, was joint second highest

Health officials insist the long-term trend for drug use is falling.

Rosanna O'Connor, director of alcohol, drugs and tobacco at Public Health England, said: "Drug use continues to be considerably lower than 10 to 15 years ago and this is particularly true for the more harmful drugs like heroin and crack.

"Public Health England will continue to be vigilant and work with national and local partners to raise awareness of the harms, provide effective prevention as well as drug recovery services for those who need them."

Experts warned that the internet and social media are playing an increasingly prominent role in the drugs trade, while the plethora of new psychoactive substances (NPS) - often referred to as "legal highs" - shows no sign of abating.

The report said a total of 101 new drugs were reported to the Europe-wide early warning system - a rate of two every week.

It brought the number of substances being monitored by the agency to some 450, with more than half that number identified in the last three years alone.

Last week the Government announced new laws aimed at cutting off the market in new drugs, which often mimic the effects of traditional banned substances.

Its annual report, the EMCDDA warned that a "marked rise" in the purity and potency of some of the most commonly used illicit drugs - cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy - was observed last year.

Researchers said the reasons for this trend are complex but appear to include "technical innovation" and "market competition".

Cannabis remains the most widely used illegal substance in Europe, with an estimated 19.3 million adults admitting taking the drug in the last year.

However, surveys in countries including the UK suggest decreasing or stable prevalence in cannabis use in the last decade.

In a "crowded" stimulant market, cocaine is the most commonly used drug, the report said, with around 3.4 million people taking it in the previous year.

An estimated 2.1 million adults used Ecstasy in the last 12 months, most of whom were aged between 15 and 34.

Joao Goulao, chairman of the EMCDDA management board, said: "This 20th analysis of the European drug phenomenon demonstrates how much has changed since the EMCDDA's first report in 1996, and how much the agency has enhanced understanding of this issue.

"The complexity of the drugs problem is now far greater, with many of the substances featured today virtually unknown to users two decades ago.

"The boundaries between old and new drugs are also becoming harder to define, as novel substances increasingly mimic controlled drugs."

Experts also highlighted reports of an increase in opium production in Afghanistan and signs of innovation in the heroin market, including the detection of processing laboratories inside Europe for the first time in decades.

EMCDDA director Wolfgang Gotz said: "Today we see marked increases in opium production in Afghanistan and a diversification both in products traded and in trafficking methods and routes used. This is compounded by the fact that crucial stages of the heroin manufacturing process are now being carried out inside Europe.

"Any potential for a resurgence of heroin problems is worrying and close monitoring of the situation is critical."

The EMCDDA is the EU's official drugs monitoring agency.

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