Almost 50 new psychoactive substances were reported to EU in 2011

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 20 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7865
  1. Rory Watson
  1. 1Brussels

The European drugs scene is becoming increasingly complex as users are confronted with a wide variety of powders and pills, says the latest annual report from the Lisbon based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).1

Cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines are the most widely used stimulants but are now competing with a growing number of new synthetic drugs such as cathinones. In 2011 a record 49 new psychoactive substances were officially notified to the European Union’s early warning system—averaging almost one every week.

The number is an increase on the 41 reported in 2010 and is considerably more than the 24 reported in 2009. Preliminary data show no sign of a decrease this year, with over 50 new drugs reported so far. The monitoring centre suggests that the range of drugs is seen by users as providing interchangeable products, with choice being determined by factors such as availability, price, and purity.

Commenting on the findings, the EMCDDA’s director, Wolfgang Götz, said: “In addressing these new challenges, it is critical that we improve our understanding of the health and social impact of emerging trends and develop measures to reduce demand. To do this, better forensic and toxicological analysis is essential.”

Cocaine remains the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe: about 15.5 million Europeans aged 15-64 years have tried it during their lifetime—some four million in the past year.

However, in the five countries with the highest prevalence—Denmark, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom—cocaine use among young adults (15-34 years) has declined, following a trend already seen in the United States and Canada.

The report draws attention to the inroads that methamphetamine is making across the continent. Traditionally associated with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, methamphetamine is replacing amphetamine as the drug of choice in Latvia, Sweden, Norway, and Finland. The quantities seized rose from some 100 kg in 2005 to 600 kg in 2010 and the number of seizures more than tripled from 2200 to 7300.

The EU is concerned about the increasing use of the drug, which is not controlled by legislation in most EU countries, and has commissioned an investigation by the EMCDDA with the support of the European Commission, Europol, and the European Medicines Agency, into the health and social risks of 4-methylamphetamine. The initiative followed deaths linked to the substance in Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK.

The EMCDDA’s annual report points to the increase in online retailers, with 693 now offering legal highs (new recreational drugs that are not controlled under drug regulations) compared with 170 in January 2010. Three natural products—kratom, salvia, and hallucinogenic mushrooms—lead the top 10 substances, and the remaining seven are synthetic. The increase in the number of internet shops, suggests the EMCDDA, probably stems from online operators looking for a replacement for mephedrone, which is now controlled in the EU.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7865