Britain labelled 'cocaine capital of Europe'

Geoff Meade,Pa Europe Editor,Brussels
Friday 07 November 2008 08:01

The UK is the cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamine capital of Europe, according to a report into the state of the drugs problem.

A report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) shows that, for the fifth year running, the UK has recorded the highest number of cocaine users in the EU.

The annual figures show that 7.7 per cent of Britons aged 15-64 have taken cocaine - rising to 11.2 per cent for the 15-24 age group and 12.7 per cent for the those aged between 15 and 34.

In each category Spain is second (7 per cent, 8.7 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively) and Ireland fourth (5.3 per cent, 7 per cent and 8.2 per cent).

The UK is also top of the league table for ecstasy, with 7.3 per cent of 15 to 64-year-olds admitting taking the drug in their lifetime, while amphetamines have been tried by 11.9 per cent of Britons.

Shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve said: "This report confirms Britain's status as the cocaine capital of Europe, not to mention the fact we also have the highest prevalence of amphetamine and ecstasy use amongst adults.

"It is particularly disturbing that we have the highest proportion of fifteen and sixteen-year-olds using cocaine - the Government's failure is betraying a whole generation of young people.

"This is due to Labour's chaotic, confused and staggeringly complacent approach to drugs. Drugs wreck lives, destroy communities and fuel crime - the fact Labour do not recognise this make them part of the problem, not the solution."

The survey said that 12 million EU citizens aged 15-64 admitted to having taken cocaine at some time in their lives, while 11 million have used amphetamines and 9.5 million have used ecstasy.

Cannabis use is much higher: 71 million Europeans say they have tried it - about one in four citizens.

In the UK 30.1 per cent of the 15-64 age group say they have used cannabis, exceeded only by France (30.6 per cent) and Denmark (36.5 per cent).

Among 15-34 year-olds the rate is higher - 41.4 per cent in the UK compared with 43 per cent in France and 49.5 per cent in Denmark.

The report said: "Prevalence of (ecstasy) use has remained consistently higher in the United Kingdom compared to the other countries.

"Data from a few countries suggest that cocaine could be replacing amphetamines and ecstasy among some sectors of the drug-using population. This may be the case in the UK and Denmark, and to some extent in Spain. Both the UK and Denmark report relatively high lifetime prevalence estimates for the use of amphetamines at 11.9 per cent and 6.9 per cent respectively, but levels of reported use in the last year and last month are more in line with those found in other countries.

"Increases in cocaine consumption in these countries have been matched to some extent by a decrease in the use of amphetamines, raising the possibility that one stimulant drug is replacing another in these markets."

The study also found a growing trend of "online shops" selling drugs over the internet, with more than half (52 per cent) based in the UK.

More than 200 different psychoactive substances offering "legal highs" were available, researchers said.

The Home Office welcomed the report's conclusion that drug use in the UK is stabilising, with numbers using cannabis and heroin falling:

A Home Office spokesman said: "Home Office figures published last week show overall drug use in the UK is at an all time low and the number of seizures is up 15 per cent on the last annual statistics.

"Alongside this, new figures today show the number of problem drug users has remained stable.

"We continue to focus our efforts on reducing the harm caused by illegal drugs through tough enforcement, education and treatment.

"We are already taking action to combat cocaine use; the drug information campaign FRANK will soon launch a £1 million campaign to educate the public about the social and health costs associated with the drug."