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Spain remains top in EU cocaine rankings

George Mills · 28 May 2014, 11:53

Published: 28 May 2014 11:53 GMT+02:00

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Spain has the highest rate of consumption of cocaine among people aged 15–34, closely followed by the UK, according to the EU's European Drug Report 2014.

Some 3.6 percent of young Spaniards had used the illegal stimulant — Europe's most popular — in the previous 12 months, 2011 figures for the country show. In the UK that number was 3.3 percent and in Denmark it was 2.4 percent.

Despite continuing high levels of cocaine use in these three countries, however, there has been a drop-off since a peak in 2008.

In most other countries this cocaine was also on the decrease. 

The European Drug Report also shows Spaniards aged 15–34 are the biggest of daily users of cocaine, with 4.4 percent of people in this group having used the drug in 20 days of the previous month.

In terms of general use of the drug among this age group, Spain came fourth with 17 percent of people having used the drug in the last 12 months. The Czech Republic had the highest levels of use, at 18.5 percent. 

But the report said there had been significant across the board decreases in cannabis use in Spain, with that level the lowest in a decade.

"What we are seeing is a normalization of use for both cocaine and cannabis," Ignacio Calderón, director of Spain's Foundation against Drug Addiction (FAD) told The Local.

"After peaks in use, these levels are now levelling out."

But Calderón said the real problem in Spain — responsible for more drug problems than anything else — remains alcohol.

"Spain is a special case when it comes to alcohol. It's wrapped up in our leisure culture of long nights out, and it's a huge part of our everyday life — in festivals and parties and celebrations," the FAD director explained, adding that this leisure culture was also responsible for high rates of cannabis use among young people.

"Now, though, we are seeing a shift from the Mediterranean pattern of drinking, which is slower, to Nordic style binge drinking. But Spaniards are reluctant to associate alcohol with illicit drugs, because one is generally considered good and the other bad. This has serious health consequences." 

SEE ALSO: Why Barcelona is getting it wrong on cannabis

The EU report, compiled by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, also shows drug-related deaths in Spain are well below EU averages, at 11.4 per million inhabitants compared to 17.1 per million for the EU as a whole.

However, cuts to the health system could worsen outcomes in the long-term, as Calderón explains.

"Much of the specialized care for drug addiction has been moved over to the general health care system as a way of saving money. But staff in these instutions lack the resources and the training to deal with drug problems," he says.

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The FAD director also believes funding won't be returned to specialized centres.

"What we desperately need in Spain now are tax incentives to encourage private institutions to fund clinics to treat drug addiction," he said.

The EU report shows that Spain is the drug seizure capital of Europe. The most seized drug in Europe in 2012 was cannabis, making up 80 percent of total drug hauls. Of a total of 457 tonnes of hashish seized, 326 tonnes were intercepted in Spain.

Cocaine and crack made up nine percent of all drug seizures in the EU in 2012, with 20.7 tonnes of cocaine being seized in Spain, the highest level in the EU.

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George Mills (george.mills@thelocal.com)

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