Sat, Nov 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Britain tops the list of EU's highest cocaine abusers

THE GUARDIAN , Brussels

Britain now tops the Euro-league table for cocaine abuse which has reached levels similar to the US, according to a study published Thursday night.

The study says 5 percent to 7 percent of Britons aged 15 to 24 have used the drug recently, with levels in towns and cities likely to be "substantially higher."

The report says these levels of cocaine abuse -- twice the average elsewhere in Europe apart from Spain -- are being driven by the drug's "positive street image," plentiful supplies and its short-term effects fitting a modern lifestyle.

The report, from the EU's drugs monitoring center based in Lisbon, undermines British Prime Minister Tony Blair's claim yesterday to be getting Britain's drug problem under control. It confirms claims by ministers that drug abuse is stabilizing, but points out that with cocaine and cannabis, it is at record levels.

The survey was published as Blair and Home Secretary David Blunkett outlined new elements in their coming legislation to crack down on dealers with harsher sentences for those who operate near schools, and to break the link with crime by getting more people into treatment.

The UK Home Office minister in charge of drugs policy, Caroline Flint, said the data was two years old and did not reflect current levels of misuse.

"More recent trends have seen a steady fall in the use of cannabis, amphetamines, and more recently, ecstasy," she said.

A UK Home Office spokeswoman confirmed that cocaine use had stabilized at a record high of around 5 percent for adults aged 16 to 24.

On cannabis, the EU report reveals that English boys are more likely than other European teenagers to have smoked a joint, with 42 percent admitting they have tried the drug. Such is the frequency of consumption, it has become almost a ritual part of growing up in Britain.

Paul Griffiths of the agency said their "crude estimate" was that there were now 3 million people across the EU who used cannabis on a daily basis.

They are particularly concerned about the long-term health implications of the emergence of a group of teenage "heavy" users who admit they have smoked cannabis more than 40 times in the last 12 months.

While the short-term effects, such as memory loss, are well documented, little is known about the long-term effects of intensive use, he said.

The report says 42 percent of boys and 38 percent of girls aged 15 in England have tried cannabis at least once compared with fewer than 10 percent in Greece, Sweden and Norway. England also has the highest proportion of heavy users, with 10 percent of 15 and 16-year-old boys having smoked it more than 40 times in the previous year.

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