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Brussels, 9 November 2010

European Commission calls for rapid action to tackle new drugs, “legal highs” and trafficking routes

The EU has made progress in curbing drug use and trafficking over the past 18 months. The Commission is acting to stop so-called “legal highs,” proposing on 20 October an EU-wide ban on mephedrone, an ecstasy-like drug that is already illegal in 15 Member States (see IP/10/1355). Important progress has also been made in blocking imports of cocaine and heroin. However, more work is needed to stem a rise in cocaine-related deaths and the emergence of new drugs and cross-border trafficking routes. These are the main conclusions of the European Commission's first review of the EU Drugs Action Plan 2009-2012, released today. Every year, 6,500 to 7,000 people die in the EU from a drug overdose. Between 25 and 30 million Europeans are estimated to have taken some type of illicit drug in the last year, including 4 million who took cocaine. There were 1,000 cocaine-related deaths.

"Drug abuse and related crimes affect the lives of millions of Europeans. Despite some encouraging progress, we need to do more to reduce the harm caused by drugs and react quickly to new substances entering the market," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "I call on EU governments to keep up drug prevention and treatment services in the context of the economic crisis, which could worsen the drug situation in the EU."

Today's Commission report reviews progress made under the EU Drugs Action Plan (2009-2012) during 2009 and the first half of 2010. Its findings are based on contributions from the EU Member States, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol. Achievements include:

  • a fall in the number of new HIV cases among drug users, following substantial investment by EU governments in preventive measures during the last decade;

  • increased cooperation to combat drug trafficking, with two new programmes to share intelligence and develop drug-fighting techniques in West Africa and the adoption of a European Pact on combating international drugs trafficking – thus disrupting cocaine and heroin routes;

  • a more strategic approach to research, to help develop policies for reducing the adverse health and social effects of drug use.

  • At the same time, the report also highlights a number of challenges where further action is needed:

  • the rapid emergence of new drugs marketed as legal alternatives to illicit drugs ("legal highs") such as the ecstasy-like drug mephedrone, which the Commission recently proposed to ban in the EU (see IP/10/1355);

  • the increase in the combined use of legal and illegal drugs;

  • the increase in deaths caused by cocaine overdoses, with around 1,000 deaths reported annually (estimates by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction);

  • the swift change in drug trafficking routes as organised crime groups seek to go around barriers set up by EU Member States;

  • external assistance to third countries would benefit from an increased focus on policies which reduce the demand for drugs in those countries.

The current economic crisis is also expected to have an impact on the drugs situation in the EU. Economic hardship among vulnerable groups could lead to increased drug consumption. The Commission urges Member States to maintain funding for drug-abuse treatment services.

Today's review is the initial step in assessing the overall effectiveness of the EU Drugs Action Plan and judging whether the drugs situation is improving as a result of these actions. Next year, the Commission will evaluate the EU's overarching Drugs Strategy 2005-2012 and its two Drugs Action Plans.


Tackling drug abuse requires a long-term, integrated and multidisciplinary approach. The EU Drugs Strategy for 2005-2012 and its two implementing Drugs Action Plans (2005-2008 and 2009-2012) set out the EU’s coherent and balanced approach to reduce users’ demand and the supply of drugs.

The EU Drugs Action Plan 2009-2012 is grouped around five priorities: to improve coordination, reduce drug demand and supply, enhance international cooperation and improve understanding of the drugs problem. The Action Plan sets out over 70 measures to help coordinate government interventions on illegal drugs, covering public health, law enforcement, customs, criminal justice and external relations.

Drugs policy is mainly the responsibility of the Member States. The Commission is responsible for monitoring and evaluating the EU Drugs Strategy and the Drugs Action Plans.

However, the Commission does have the authority to propose to Member States that new drugs be put under control under Council Decision 2005/387/JHA. The Decision set up a mechanism for the rapid exchange of information on new psychoactive drugs. It also established a procedure for risk-assessment and control of such substances.

For more information

Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:

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