As prices for illicit drugs keep dropping, juvenile drug use in some European countries is on the rise, in spite of record levels of seizures. Afghanistan remains a prime source for Europe's heroin addicts.
Cannabis is the drug of choice for many
The prices of illicit drugs in the European Union keep dropping, in spite of record levels of seizures involving cannabis, heroin, cocaine and amphetamines, in particular the mind-altering drug ecstasy. The findings were published in a report on Thursday by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
"There are signs in some countries that ecstasy and cocaine are cheaper today than in the late 1980s and early 1990s," according to the agency's annual report. In spite of record levels of drug seizures and successful efforts to stem the flow of cocaine imports from South America, officials at the drug monitoring agency say that they are failing to hit newer routes used by drug traffickers.
Some 1.5 million Europeans consume the hard stuff, such as cocaine, regularly
An analysis of street prices based on data from 29 countries -- the 25 EU members, plus Bulgaria, Norway, Turkey, and Romania -- showed that average prices for most substances, adjusted for inflation, had fallen from 1999 to 2004, with the price of ecstasy down by 47 percent, heroin by 45 percent, cocaine by 22 percent and cannabis dropping to 19 percent. Although black market prices have dropped significantly, there still remain considerable price differences within Europe.
The use of cannabis, the plant from which marijuana and hashish are derived, is the most widespread of all illegal drugs, according to the EU study. Some 20 percent of the population in Europe has tried it at least once, with its use not only confined to young people. Many habitual users continue smoking marijuana or hashish well into their 30s and 40s.
"Afghans producing heroin like hell"
A main source of illicit drugs is Afghanistan, according to Wolfgang Götz, head of the EU drug monitoring center, who said that the Afghans were "producing heroin like hell," with its opium crop supplying 89 percent of Europe's heroin.
"The global supply for heroin is now exceeding global demand," added Götz.
Whether the fall in drug prices reflects changes in supply or demand or both, is unclear, although the agency expressed concern about a rise in illegal drug consumption among juveniles, with the highest rates of abuse among youth in Spain, France and Britain.
Amphetamine and cocaine abuse is highest in Britain according to the report, with consumption rising in the entire EU. Some 1.5 million Europeans consume these hard drugs regularly.
The mind-altering drug ecstasy has become a favorite on the party circuit
Heroin abuse, on the other hand, has become less widespread, though it remains the most addictive of all illicit drugs and accounts for 60 percent of those who seek help. To curb the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases among drug addicts, most EU countries now offer public programs that distribute sterile needles or replacement drugs to help wean addicts off the most potent substances.
According to Götz, 1.7 million Europeans have drug problems, meaning that they regularly consume hard drugs, much of which is self injected. On an annual basis, between 7,000 and 8,000 Europeans die of drug-related overdoses, mostly from heroin, but also from cocaine, in particular its potent derivative, crack.