Britain is drugs capital of Europe UK are top drug takers in Europe

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The Independent Online
MORE PEOPLE in the United Kingdom take drugs than any other country in Europe, an international survey has found.

Drug users in the UK are the biggest consumers of cannabis, ecstasy and amphetamines. In addition, British youngsters were the highest abusers of solvents, with 20 per cent of 15- and 16-year-olds having sniffed dangerous substances.

The study of all 15 members of the European Union, makes depressing reading for law enforcers and drugs agencies in the UK.

It also highlights a number of European trends that include a rise in amphetamine and cocaine abuse, as ecstasy falls in popularity, as well as the spread of heroin from large urban areas to rural ones and smaller towns.

On the positive side, the incidence of new Aids cases is falling sharply, although the number of people contracting the liver disease hepatitis C from sharing equipment used to inject drugs is rising.

The 1998 Annual Report on the State of the Drugs Problem in the European Union, which was carried out by the European Commission, shows that the war against drugs is being lost. It says the availability of heroin, although only used by about 1 per cent of the population, is increasing in some EU countries, including the UK, and warns that "several countries report heroin smoking by new groups of young people, both from socially integrated populations and from minority groups." The study estimated that between 0.2 and 0.3 per cent of the EU population is addicted to heroin - about 900,000 people.

Seizures of cannabis while increasing fourfold from 1985 to 1994 have stabilised and it remains the number one drug of choice.

The popularity of the dance drug ecstasy may have peaked. It has been tried by as few as 0.5 per cent of the population in Belgium to 3 per cent in Britain. Deaths from ecstasy are relatively rare, says the report.

The use of amphetamines (speed) and cocaine appears to be on the increase. Speed has been used by 9 per cent of the UK population - the highest level in the EU. The report says: "Despite rising concern about ecstasy in recent years, it is amphetamines that may increasingly dominate the market in synthetic drugs in the future."

British teenagers aged 15 and 16 are top of the league for cannabis use - with 40 per cent having tried the drug - compared with Finland and Portugal where about 4 per cent have indulged. Britons are also among the highest users of amphetamines, hallucinogens and ecstasy.

Crack, a highly addictive cocaine derivative, is found in only a small number of countries - Britain, the Netherlands and France.

On the law enforcement side, seizures of cocaine, heroin and amphetamines have continued to increase in the past year while the amount of cannabis has tailed off slightly. The UK accounted for more than a fifth of cannabis seizures.

Trafficking routes remain unchanged. The Balkan route from Asia is used primarily to supply Europe with heroin, whilst the route across the North Atlantic from South and Central America remains the most popular for transporting cocaine.

There has been an increase in the production and trade in synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy, especially in eastern Europe.

Morocco and Pakistan are major suppliers of cannabis resin along with Colombia, South Africa, Nigeria, Thailand and most recently Albania.