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New study shows increasing use of 'legal highs' among young Europeans

The use of new substances imitating the effects of illicit drugs (‘legal highs’) has risen considerably among young people in the EU, according to figures released in a Eurobarometer study on young people and drugs.  On the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the European Commission renews its commitment to taking firm action to protect young people from the dangers of 'legal highs'. 

"The European Commission has proposed legislation to protect young people against harmful new psychoactive substances. The findings issued today prove that there is no time to lose: the new rules must be put in place swiftly so that we can prevent dangerous substances from emerging on the European market," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "’Legal highs’ are lethal, and this growing problem in Europe is putting our young people at risk. A borderless internal market means we need common EU rules to tackle this problem."

Here are some key findings from the Eurobarometer "Young people and drugs":

  • The average EU consumption of ‘legal highs’ among young people (15-24 years) has increased from 5% in 2011 to 8% in 2014. The highest increases occurred in Spain (5% to 13%), Ireland (16% to 22%), and the UK (8% to 10%).

  • Young people consider that ‘legal highs’ are easier to acquire than ecstasy and heroin. 15% of young people stated they could obtain new psychoactive substances 'very easily' or 'quite easily' within the next 24 hours, whereas this percentage is 13% for ecstasy and 9% for heroin (see figure 3).

  • Among those who have used such substances, more than two out of three got them from a friend (68%). Only 3% had acquired ‘legal highs’ online.

  • More than half of respondents (57%) think that using new psychoactive substances or ecstasy once or twice may pose a high risk to a person’s health – 62% have this view regarding cocaine. Only 21% consider that using cannabis once or twice may pose high risks.

  • Almost one fifth of young people (17%) have used cannabis in the past 12 months, an increase from 14% in 2011.

  • 35% of young people think that new substances should be banned under any circumstances, while 47% advocate this only if they pose a risk to health. A little more than half of respondents (53%) believe that cannabis should continue to be banned. Most respondents consider that heroin, cocaine and ecstasyshould continue being banned.

This is a summary of the findings published on the occasion of International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The full Eurobarometer study will be available in the coming weeks.

New legislation on new psychoactive substances

On 17 September 2013, the Commission proposed to strengthen the European Union’s ability to respond to ‘legal highs’ by having a quicker mechanism to withdraw harmful psychoactive substances from the market (IP/13/837). On 17 April 2014, the European Parliament voted to back the proposals (IP/14/461).

EU countries have flagged more than 360 new psychoactive substances through the Early Warning System since 1997. Ten substances have been submitted to control measures across the EU, following proposals from the European Commission – most recently, Mephedrone, 4-MA and 5-IT.

On 16 June this year, the European Commission proposed to ban four new psychoactive substances, which simulate the effects of illicit drugs such as heroin or LSD - MDPV, 25I-NBOMe, AH-7921 and methoxetamine. In addition, the European Commission is assessing reports on two more new psychoactive substances – 4,4’-DMAR and MT-45 - to see if there are grounds to propose bans later this year.

For more information

2014 Eurobarometer preliminary results "Young people and drugs": ch_404_391_en.htm#401

2011 Eurobarometer on "Youth attitudes on drugs” df

European Commission - New drugs: ex_en.htm

Homepage of Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner:< /p>

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice

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