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Drug use steady despite lockdowns: EU agency

Published: in European News by .

Some substances became more popular, like psychedelic drugs and benzodiazepines.

The severe restrictions on movement and activities during the coronavirus pandemic had little effect on Europeans’ appetite for illegal drugs in 2020, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Cannabis use, for example, remained “stable” and at “high levels,” said the EU agency in its yearly report, released Wednesday. In 2020, it found, 15.4 percent of Europeans aged between 15-34 made use of the drug, mostly unchanged over 2019.

The availability of harder drugs like cocaine also continued unchanged, notes the report, citing large seizures carried out by police forces in 2020. In the case of heroin, it writes in a supplementary report, data from 10 hospitals shows “no overall change in the number of presentations associated with heroin between January and September 2020” when compared with the previous year.

Overall, the yearly report estimates that 17.4 million Europeans aged 15-34 made use of illicit drugs in 2020, or 16.9 percent of people in that age group, with twice as many men using as women.

“At the beginning of 2020 the European drug market was characterised by the widespread availability of a diverse range of drugs of increasingly high purity or potency,” write the authors. Any decline in consumption of illegal substances caused by lockdowns “rapidly disappeared as social distancing measures were eased.”

The party drug MDMA — also known as ecstasy — was one of a few drugs to buck the trend, according to the report, citing waste-water analysis that indicated decreased use.

The drop in interest in the drug — commonly linked to all-night dancing in nightclubs shuttered through the pandemic — is supported by online surveys suggesting a fall in consumption between 20 to 40 percent. Data from hospitals also suggests fewer emergency room visits linked with the drug.

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Use of psychedelics like LSD, as well as dissociative drugs like ketamine, on the other hand, appeared to grow. “This may reflect a growth in demand for substances possibly perceived as more suitable for home consumption,” wrote the authors. This trend might also be linked to the boredom of having to be stuck inside, the EMCDDA wrote, adding that this “will need to be confirmed” once more data is available.

Another increase was reported in the abuse of benzodiazepines — a class of anti-anxiety drugs that include Valium and Xanax — among high-risk drug users, people in prison and recreational drug-takers. EMCDDA experts also linked this to the effects of lockdown.

“The increased use and misuse of benzodiazepines among young drug users is not a new trend, but it may have been exacerbated by the situational circumstances of the pandemic (confinement, boredom, escapism, isolation and changes in methods of distributing drugs),” they wrote.

This class includes both regular, prescribed drugs that are diverted to the black market as well as new benzodiazepines whose effects aren’t well understood.

The use of benzodiazepines is particularly worrying due to their danger when mixed with other substances, warned EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel in the report’s introduction.

“This kind of polydrug use, and more generally the growing importance of synthetic substances, highlights the urgent need to further develop forensic and toxicological resources if we are to better understand and respond to the increasingly complex drug problems we face today,” Goosdeel wrote.


Source: POLITICO https://www.politico.eu/article/drug-use-steady-despite-coronavirus-lockdown-emcdda/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication

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