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European Commission


Brussels, 21 August 2014

Spreading information on the risks of drug use: a European challenge

Young Europeans are less informed about the effects and risks of drugs than just a few years ago. While they widely use the Internet to gather knowledge, a new Eurobarometer survey shows that compared to 2011, respondents are less likely to have received such information from most sources, in particular from media campaigns and school prevention programmes.

More than one quarter of young people (29%) say they have not been informed at all in the past year about the effects and risks of so-called legal highs – currently legal substances that imitate the effects of illegal drugs. This comes at a time when the number of young people saying they have used 'legal highs' has risen to 8%, from 5% in 2011.

More than 13,000 citizens aged 15-24 were interviewed for the Eurobarometer "Young People and Drugs" across the EU. Drug use and drug-related problems continue to be a major concern for EU citizens. They are also a significant public health and public safety issue. According to studies by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), drug experimentation often starts in the school years, and it is estimated that one in four 15-16 year-olds have used an illicit drug. In recent years, the use of 'legal-highs' has become increasingly popular, and the European Commission is working to strengthen the EU's ability to protect young people by reducing the availability of harmful substances, as part of an overall drug policy regulatory framework

As the new figures confirm, increasing knowledge and spreading information is another crucial task. The European Commission has used funds from five EU financial programmes to support a number of projects aimed at, among others, boosting detection and identification of new psychoactive substances and the risks associated with them. A number of projects also help those encountering and charged with dealing with these drugs on the ground. A new report published today gives an overview of 18 projects that have received such funding since 2007.

Activities supported by the Commission, some of which are yet to be completed, range from developing improved means of detecting and analysing new psychoactive substances to training those working in places where drug use might occur (such as bars or nightclubs) in some Member States so that they can identify acute health problems related to these drugs and aid those affected. A number of projects dealt with spreading knowledge and advice, through means such as websites, telephone hotlines and sending volunteers to big festivals. Other projects for example fostered cooperation and the exchange of information among national prosecutors and law enforcement authorities.


On 17 September 2013, the Commission proposed to strengthen the European Union’s ability to respond to 'legal highs' by introducing a quicker mechanism to withdraw harmful psychoactive substances from the market (IP/13/837 and MEMO/13/790). On 17 April 2014, the European Parliament voted to back the draft regulation (IP/14/461). To become law, the Commission's proposal needs to be adopted by the Member States in Council, following the ordinary legislative procedure.

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 requested the Scientific Committee of EMCDDA to conduct risk assessments 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

Eurobarometer "Young People and Drugs" and specific results for your country regarding young people and drugs: link

European Commission – Drug control policy:

European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 'European Drug Report' 2014:

Homepage of Martine Reicherts, EU Justice Commissioner:

Follow Martine Reicherts on Twitter and on Facebook

ANNEXES – Results of Eurobarometer "Young People and Drugs"

Experience of new psychoactive substances

The percentage of young people who say they have used so-called legal highs has risen slightly compared to three years ago: 8% of them now say they have done so, with 1% having tried them in the last 30 days, 3% in the last 12 months and 4% more than 12 months ago. In 2011, 5% of young people had claimed to have used 'legal highs’. Most respondents that have experienced new psychoactive substances in the last 12 months obtained them from a friend (68%). Just over one quarter (27%) bought them from a drug dealer, while 10% purchased them in a specialised shop and 3% bought them on the Internet.

Attitudes towards drugs policy

There remains a strong consensus amongst young people that heroin, cocaine and ecstasy should remain banned (with 96%, 93% and 91% saying so, respectively) – these results have not changed since the last survey in 2011. Opinions about cannabis are more divided. Just over half say that it should continue to be banned (53%), while 45% think it should be regulated. Compared to 2011, attitudes towards alcohol and tobacco have become more restrictive: respondents are now far more likely to say that these substances should be regulated, and less likely to say they should be unrestricted.

Most respondents are in favour of bans on legal highs that mimic the effects of illicit drugs. Just over one third (35%) think that these substances should be banned under any circumstances, while 47% think they should only be banned if they pose a health risk. More than one in ten think that regulation of these substances should be introduced (15%), while only 1% think nothing should be done.

Awareness and information sources on illicit drugs and legal highs

The Internet is the most important source of information on illicit drugs and drug use for young people: more than half of all respondents said they would turn to it (59%). The Internet is thus much more widely mentioned than friends (36%), doctors, nurses or health professionals (31%), parents or relatives (25%), or specialised drugs counsellors or centres (21%). Relatively few respondents would turn to the police (13%), the media (10%), someone at school or work (9%), social or youth workers (7%), or a telephone helpline (4%).

However, young people are now less likely to have received information about the risks and effects of drugs from almost all of these sources than in 2011. In particular, respondents are much less likely to say they received information from media campaigns and school prevention programmes (-6 and -9 percentage points, respectively).

As far as information on legal highs is concerned, the Internet (30%) and media campaigns (29%) are the most important sources of information for young people. More than one quarter (29%) say they have not been informed at all in the past year about new substances that imitate the effects of illicit drugs.


Perceived health risks of using drugs

Almost all respondents consider regular use of cocaine or ecstasy may pose a high risk to health (96% and 93%, respectively), while a further 3% and 5% respectively considered regular use may carry a medium risk. The risks were perceived as lower for those who have only used these drugs once or twice. Just over half (57%) said using ecstasy once or twice may have a high risk, 29% said the risk may be medium, and 9% considered the risk may be low. However, just 2% thought there may be no risk in using ecstasy once or twice. A large majority also consider regular use of new substances that imitate illicit drugs may carry a high risk to health (87%), while 9% think the risk may be moderate and 1% that it may be low. Respondents are less likely to think that using these new substances once or twice may pose a health risk, with 57% saying the risk may be high, 29% that there may be a medium risk and 9% that the risk may be low. Just 1% think there may be no health risk in this scenario.

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