The number and availability of new types of drugs continued to rise in 2012, challenging EU efforts to combat illegal drugs and reduce addiction.
Globalisation, technological advances and the internet have driven the development of an open market for new drugs, according to the EU drugs agency, which monitors drug use in Europe.
This fundamental shift poses significant challenges for treatment programmes, law enforcement and policymaking, the agency says in its annual report
The EU will have to rapidly adjust its new drugs strategy to address this more dynamic market, the agency concludes.
There were some positive developments last year – demand for cannabis and cocaine is falling in some countries, and the number of first-time heroin users fell.
Record numbers of people are also getting treatment for addiction. Some 1.2 million Europeans entered a rehab programme in 2011. Heroin addicts and those dependent on similar opioid-type drugs form the largest group being treated, followed by cannabis and cocaine users.
The European situation indicates that drug treatment remains the most likely cost-effective approach – even in difficult economic times, the report says.
Although drug-related services have a significant role in helping addicts end, or at least manage, their drug use, treatment programmes are in danger of being underfunded as governments seek to cut public budgets.
Cuts to such programmes have already been made by some countries, even though drug use in Europe remains high. A quarter of European adults – some 85 million people – are estimated to have used illegal drugs.
While some 6,500 people died from overdose in 2011 – a fall of 500 from the previous year – drug-related deaths remain a major challenge for public health services.
The drugs market is also adapting to demand, with ever more complex synthetic stimulants on the market in greater numbers. Authorities have detected over 70 new drugs in the past year, some of which can still be obtained legally.
Globalisation and information technology are important drivers of this rapidly evolving market, with the internet allowing users to connect with new suppliers.