Ecstasy on the rise in Europe

Europe remains a major source of illicit manufactured synthetic drugs like Ecstasy pills, abused widely by young people both in the Old Continent and abroad, according to a recent global drug-trafficking update. In a report released this week by the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) for 2001, the expert body expressed its concern «about the easy availability of synthetic drugs throughout the region,» and calls for more cooperation among countries in the region in order to effectively tackle the problems. In one of the most recent incidents involving trafficking of synthetic drugs in Greece, a court in the northern city of Thessaloniki last month sentenced a Belgian national to life imprisonment for importing the largest amount of Ecstasy pills ever confiscated in the country. Greek police had discovered a total of 52,300 pills concealed under a truckload of tulips from the Netherlands. According to the INCB report, «seizures of Ecstasy and similar synthetic drugs increased during 2000 throughout Western Europe,» and that «a particular large number of seizures were effected in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.» In the case of France, the number of seizures doubled in 2000. European law enforcement agencies, though, were not as successful when it came to intercepting and confiscating other synthetic psychotropic substances, such as amphetamines. «Seizure statistics for 2000 show a decline in amphetamine seizures in Europe for the second year in a row,» the INCB says. «As in the past years, the principal source country was reported to be the Netherlands, although several laboratories were located in countries in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland.» The report notes that in August 2001 the national law enforcement agency of Switzerland discovered and dismantled a major methamphetamine trafficking ring, the first of its kind in Europe, which had been smuggling the illicit drug from Southeast Asia into Europe. The discovery, according to the INCB, «shows that the traffic in stimulants between Asia and Europe goes in both directions.» Another European country that is identified by the INCB as a major producer of methamphetamine is the Czech Republic, where 14 laboratories for manufacturing that substance were seized in 2000. Cannabis, Balkan routes Despite the high penetration of Ecstasy and other synthetic drugs into the European market, cannabis remains extremely popular among European drug abusers. «Cannabis remains the most widely abused and trafficked drug in Europe,» the INCB notes while underlining that «much of the cannabis in Europe is grown in the region.» According to INCB, an expert body comprising 13 United Nations experts tasked with identifying weaknesses in the national and international control systems for illicit drugs, despite some eradication efforts and large seizures effected by authorities, Albania has continued to be a major source for the cannabis herb. Illicit poppy cultivation was discovered for the first time in Albania in 2001. Greek authorities recently reported that border towns near the Greek-Albanian and Greek-Bulgarian borders have seen an increase in cross-border drug deals. In the past five years, authorities in the region have made 500 arrests connected with 300 cases, and 82.5 kilos of heroin along with 300 kilos of cannabis were confiscated. According to a report by Greek authorities, cannabis is the most common illegal substance in the area, and the glut on the market has lowered prices from 1,760 to 2,348 euros per kilo to 100 to 294-352 euros. The UN drug expert body also cites the «unrestricted sale of cannabis seeds and growing accessories in so-called ‘hemp shops’ and on the Internet, as facilitating indoor cannabis cultivation in Europe.» As concerns heroin, the report notes that the Balkan route continues to be the main one used to smuggle the illicit substance into Europe, while it declares that «most countries in Central and Eastern Europe that have been used for a long time as transit countries are now facing serious problems of heroin abuse.» Moreover, HIV and hepatitis C infection are spreading among drug abusers in many European countries who inject. Cocaine, in contrast, is mostly smuggled into Europe through transit countries in South America or the Caribbean, the INCB underlines, chiefly via European countries on the west coast. «The most significant entry point in Europe for cocaine consignments continues to be Spain, followed by the Netherlands; however, Portugal is also increasingly being used as an entry point, as indicated by an increase in cocaine seizures in that country,» the report notes. According to the INCB, drug trafficking in Europe often involves organized criminal groups, which are said to have increased sixfold from 1996 to 2000, according to Russian law enforcement authorities. Their networks are transnational and they are increasingly smuggling more than one type of drug. Decriminalization The expert body expressed its concern that some countries in Western Europe have moved to decriminalize offenses related to the possession and abuse of controlled drugs and openly tolerate the abuse of drugs, particularly cannabis and Ecstasy. «The governments of those countries should consider whether that is the proper strategy for achieving the targets set by the General Assembly at its 20th special session, in particular the target of significantly reducing drug abuse by the year 2008,» the INCB states in its report. «So far, none of the governments concerned have been able to provide to the board information showing that the application of such measures reduces the demand for illicit drugs.» The international drug board stresses that as long as there is no significant reduction in the demand for cannabis in most parts of Western Europe, where cannabis abuse is increasingly tolerated, the success of all eradication efforts made by governments outside Europe is bound to be limited. In Greece, a recently tabled draft bill offering a fresh view of the drug problem in the country raised startling questions last week during a session of a parliamentary committee dealing with the issue. The bill, which calls for «state-regulated supplying of narcotics, classifying cannabis separately from other drugs, and making legal penalties more tenable,» prompted MPs to question the validity of studies declaring cannabis to be a non-addictive substance, while a former health minister stressed that recent medical reports point to the contrary. No decision has been reached yet on the fate of the bill.

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