England and Wales top new European study of cocaine use among young adults

The prevalence of recent cocaine use among young adults in England and Wales is the highest in Europe, a study from the EU’s drug monitoring agency suggests.

Analysis cited 2016 figures indicating that 4% of 16 to 34-year-olds had taken the class A substance in the previous 12 months.

The percentage placed England and Wales at the top of the list of European countries for which data was available, and well above the EU-wide average of 1.9%.

Denmark, Ireland, Spain and the Netherlands were the only other countries to report prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of 2.5% or more, according to the paper published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Researchers estimate that 3.5 million adults in the EU had taken cocaine in the previous 12 months, making it the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug.

The study found that while the price of cocaine has remained stable, its purity at street level was at the highest level in a decade in 2016.

Cocaine use is more prevalent in southern and western European countries, according to the assessment.

It noted that among regular consumers a broad distinction can be made between “socially integrated” users, who often sniff powder cocaine, and “marginalised” users who inject the drug or smoke crack.

The report said: “The majority of those entering specialised treatment for problems related to cocaine use are primary powder cocaine users (51,000 or 10% of all drug clients in 2016).

“Most primary cocaine clients are seeking treatment for use of the drug on its own (31% of powder cocaine clients) or in combination with cannabis (26%), alcohol (31%) or other substances (12%).

“This group is generally reported to be socially well-integrated, with stable living conditions and regular employment.”

Overall, the EMCDDA said that across the board drug availability is high and, in some areas, appears to be increasing.

It highlighted the challenge of responding to new psychoactive substances (NPSs), which were known as legal highs before being made subject to a blanket ban in the UK in 2016.

Last year, 51 NPSs were reported for the first time to an EU early warning system – a rate of around one a week.

Although the number of new substances “making their debut” is down from the peak reached in 2015, the negative public health implications of these drugs remain high, the EMCDDA assessment said.

In other findings, cannabis remained the most widely used illicit drug in Europe, while there were “worrying signs” of increased levels of drug production on the continent.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said: “We are seeing higher drug production and availability in Europe today. On top of that, the illicit drug market is highly dynamic and adaptable – and therefore all the more dangerous.”

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