The European Commission to take action to protect youth against 'legal highs'
In a new report released 11th July 2011, the European Commission points out the growing threat of new psychoactive drugs for young people in Europe and the need for targeted action to tackle this health threat.
The EU identified a record number of 41 such substances in 2010, up from 24 the previous year. Psychoactive substances, also designated as 'legal highs', imitate the effects of dangerous illicit drugs like ecstasy or cocaine. They are not controlled under United Nations Drugs Conventions and are sold legally. They are often sold over the Internet and in specialist shops.
Few Member States have laws to regulate psychoactive substances. EU rules need to adapt to this growing problem and prevent such unsafe substances from being sold freely in Europe. Young people are particularly at risk. According to a Eurobarometer on youth attitudes to drugs, new psychoactive substances are increasingly popular with 5% of young Europeans saying that they have used them. The figures are the highest in Ireland (16%), followed by Poland (9%), Latvia (9%), the UK (8%) and Luxembourg (7%).
EU's Justice Commissioner said: "[New psychoactive substances] can be toxic, addictive and have long-term adverse effects. (…) The current system of detecting these new drugs is not fit to tackle the large increase in the number of these substances on the market. That's why rules must be strengthened to make sure young people do not fall into the trap of using these dangerous drugs".
The Commission is considering various ways to make the EU rules more effective, such as alternative options to criminal sanctions, new ways of monitoring substances that cause concern, and aligning drugs control measures with those for food and product safety. In the autumn, the Commission will present a series of options in this respect.
In addition to responding to the increased availability of legal highs and targeting drug trafficking, the Commission is targeting with equal vigour prevention, harm reduction and drug treatment. The Commission stands for a long-term, balanced approach. The EU Drugs Strategy for 2005-2012 and its two implementing Drugs Action Plans (2005-2008, 2009-2012 ) set out the EU's coherent and balanced approach to reduce users' demand and the supply of drugs.
To reduce users' demand, the Commission is putting emphasis on the implementation of the Recommendation on drug dependence it issued in 2003. In the Recommendation, the EU Council advised member countries to reduce drug-related deaths and health damage by developing strategies to prevent drug-related harm. The Commission has issued a report on implementation of the recommendation in 2007.
The Commission is also supporting inclusion of civil society within drug policy debate. To this end, it created the Civil Society Forum on Drugs as well as the European Action on Drugs. The Civil Society Forum on Drugs provides a structure for exchange of views and dialogues between the Commission and European civil society organisations. The EU Action on Drugs invites all illicit drugs policy stakeholders as well as individuals to make concrete commitments aimed at increasing awareness of drugs harmful effects, especially among young people.
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