England and Wales has 'worst drug problem in Europe'

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Drug abuse among teenage students is worse in England and Wales than in any other part of the European Union, a new survey has shown .

The use of cannabis and LSD is almost 10 times as high as in Portugal and Finland, while solvent abuse - unheard of in Austria and Portugal, according to the figures - is practised by one fifth of 15 to 16-year-olds in England and Wales.

Amphetamines are tried by 13% in England and Wales, compared with less than 8% in Holland and less than 4% anywhere else in the EU.

Ireland has the most ecstasy users in the 15-16 age group, followed by England and Wales and Holland - the only parts of the EU where ecstasy use borders on 10%.

Elsewhere the drug registered below 5%, and barely figured at all in Scandinavia and Portugal.

The European Commission report on "the state of young people's health" said the number of deaths related to drugs and substance abuse was increasing significantly in the UK, Ireland, Austria, Denmark Greece and Sweden, but falling in Germany, France and Belgium.

Cannabis was the most common illegal drug, while solvents were the second most-abused substances among adolescents, with figures varying from less than 5% in Belgium to 20% in England and Wales.

The report said that up to 80% of 15-year-olds in the EU had tried smoking, and that in 1998, 20% of all 15-year-olds were daily cigarette smokers.

One of the most disturbing trends, it showed was that regular alcohol consumption was starting earlier and that "drinking to inebriation" was becoming increasingly common among young people from 15 to 24 years old.

"Boys still drink more heavily and more frequently than girls, but the gender gap is narrowing in most member states," the report said.

The biggest killer of youngsters throughout the EU remained traffic accidents, followed by suicide - 14% of all suicides in the 15 EU member states are in the age range 15-24 years.