UK is Europe's 'addictions capital', says think tank

Mephedrone One in 12 young people in the UK said they had taken legal highs, according to the think tank

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The UK has become the drug and alcohol "addictions capital of Europe", a think tank has warned.

The Centre for Social Justice - set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith - said drink and drug abuse cost the UK £36bn a year.

Its report warned that the UK has become a hub for websites peddling potentially dangerous "legal highs".

The CSJ also criticised the government for failing to tackle heroin addiction and cheaply available alcohol.

The report, No Quick Fix, found that last year 52 people in England and Wales died after taking legal highs, up from 28 the previous year.

The substances, sometimes referred to as club drugs and including Salvia and Green Rolex, are often marketed as bath salts or research chemicals.

But the drugs can be sold legally as long as they are clearly marked "not for human consumption", but have been known to cause permanent bladder damage, blood poisoning and death.

According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), there are now more than 130 UK-registered websites selling the products cheaply by mail order - making postal service workers unwitting drug mules.

'Faster bans needed'

The think tank said one in 12 young people in the UK admitted to having taken legal highs - the highest figure in Europe.

Start Quote

Much more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of addiction so that people have a better chance of breaking free.”

End Quote Noreen Oliver Chairwoman, CSJ review

It said a faster system of prohibition was needed to deal with legal highs, as 150 new substances have come on to the market in the last three years, while the government has managed to ban just 15 in the same period.

The report also attacked a failure to offer heroin addicts effective treatment.

A Freedom of Information inquiry found that 55% of councils in England have had funding for residential treatment cut since the coalition came to power, despite Prime Minister David Cameron pushing for more residential programmes.

North/South divide

The report said that almost a third of people in England on drug-substitute prescriptions such as methadone have been on them for four or more years, and one in 25 for more than 10 years.

The CSJ found alcohol dependence among British men was second in western Europe and seventh overall, while alcohol dependence among women is higher in the UK than anywhere in Europe.

One in four adults in England drank to harmful levels, and one in 20 were "dependent drinkers", it said.

The report also found a stark north-south divide in the problem of alcohol abuse, with 26 of the 30 local authorities with the highest rate of alcohol-related admissions in the north of the country.

The CSJ said the government had recognised the dangers of excessive drinking, but criticised its failure to tackle cheap alcohol through minimum unit pricing or a "treatment tax", with revenue put into treatment for addicts.

'Faster on its feet'

Noreen Oliver, chairwoman of the CSJ review, said: "Despite some slow progress in this last three years, much more needs to be done to tackle the root causes of addiction so that people have a better chance of breaking free.

"Alcohol is taking an increasing toll across all services in the UK and new emerging drugs are causing more harm - all the while funding to rehabilitation centres is being dramatically cut and methadone prescribing is being protected."

Crime Prevention Minister Jeremy Browne said the government took the threat of legal highs seriously, describing them as "highs which should not be assumed to be either safe or legal".

"Our Forensic Early Warning System enables us to closely monitor their availability, so we can target activity to reduce demand and supply.

"We are banning whole groups of substances rather than individual drugs and have introduced temporary drug orders which allow us to place harmful substances under control - protecting the public while giving time to our independent experts to prepare more detailed advice."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    If dope was legalised, we wouldn't have to worry about these horrible synthetics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Lets not forget the vast majority of drug users are just that, users - not abusers.

    Drugs are fun, beneficial, and mind expanding. If people do over do it, they step back. Addiction doesn't play a part and limits and tolerances are found and then respected.

    If the medical benefits of marijuana were given as much exposure as scare stories we wouldn't be scared at all on the EVIL WEED!

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Alcohol and smoking are legal drugs and they are causing huge amounts of misery in the same way as illegal drugs do. Making drugs legal or illegal doesn’t matter. The music and film industries have glamorised all sorts of drug use as opposed to showing the negative effects. They could do far more to show the misery drug abuse causes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    I don't need a law to tell me not to do cocaine et al. It is your body, and you are free to put whatever you wish in it. You enjoying a chemical high while listening to awful music harms me in no way whatsoever.

    If police can't keep drugs out of the totalitarian environment of jail, how will encroaching on our lives out here work? People will always use drugs. We should help them, not jail them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Alcohol is a much bigger problem than drugs in this country. Because it is socially acceptable to come home after a hard day at work and open a nice bottle of chardonnay doesn't make it any less of a problem than drinking cider in a bus shelter. The Ontario model of state controlling the sale of alcohol is well worth considering - but its not much of a vote winner so never going to happen!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Why the concentration on trying to make it harder to get il/legal drugs? I don't think I've ever seen a mention of research into why British (Anglo) society acquires such an enthusiasm for taking drugs, BEFORE it becomes a habit they cannot (and only sometimes would like to be able) to kick. How has our youth come to think it is (& some the only way to have) fun to be stoned on alcohol or drugs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    The UK's position at the top of this particular league table is due in no small measure to successive governments resisting the drug and substance abuse industries with all the firmness of wet spaghetti.
    Add to this today's emphasis on rights without responsibilities, and here we are...
    As for those who think the solution to criminal activity is making it legal, are you serious?

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Decriminalization has to be looked at. Why not have pharmacies dealing out prescriptions for various cleanly produced recreational / therapeutic alternatives to alcohol and tobacco ? Raise revenue and provide advice from those places that are already established. Pharmacies jumped at the chance to sell viagra ! Get data on usage and have weekly / monthly limits. Provide lifestyle counselling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Alcohol is dangerous, but it seems more likely that the ingredients and effects are better understood?
    Absolutely, we know for a fact that driving is impaired, that common sense and inhibitions go out the window, we know alcohol will be responsible for just about all anti-social behaviour across the UK on a Fri/Sat night! And do we discuss banning alcohol?

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.


    Just because things are legal doesn't mean people partake in them. Use your noddle old son I am talking about legalization not about forcing people to take drugs. Its legal to down a pint of bleach but would you do it? no because I am assuming you are not some kind of idiot! Plus with more funding the police could go after the tax free pushers. Win win thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    There is a giant misconception through many comments here.

    People do not exclusively take drugs because they have a problem or a bad life. People take drugs because it's thrilling and a dare and can be fun.

    Some people such as the jobless in Wales do turn to heroin out of boredom and despair. But an ecstasy-popping clubber does not have a "problem"; they are loved up and busy hugging people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    So is this about drugs or about the state of mind that has people seeking drugs? Is Britain sick because of drugs or trying to medicate its existing sickness with whatever it can get hold of? The law fixes nothing because it doesn't know what it is trying to fix and often tries to fix it without the support of the supposed victims.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    According to the CSJ 25% drink to harmful levels. Well, yes, if you consider more than two glasses of wine harmful. I've been drinking three bottle of wine a week for thirty years (no hard booze) and I feel in the pink, with the blood pressure of an eighteen-year-old.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    "If people want to self harm with drugs of any description let them...just ensure they bear the full financial risks as more taxpayer subsidy for addicts."
    If people want to self harm with overeating, driving without due care & attention, playing contact sports, over exercising, under exercising, overworking... Where to draw the line? BTW, addictions are an illness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    'The Centre For Social Justice - set up by Ian Duncan Smith'

    bit of a paradox

    Sounds like

    The Centre for Gay and Lesbian equality - set up by Vladimir Putin

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    For those who become addicted to drugs, it's a terrible situation. It's a shame that people are prepared to buy unknown combinations of substances, without questioning the health risks.

    Alcohol is dangerous, but it seems more likely that the ingredients and effects are better understood?

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    Legalising weed might help prevent the nigh on constant stream of new legal highs being developed.
    Realistically, if it gets used socially, there's no problem with it.
    Compare it to drink/smoking, if you do either extensively, you'll develop a problem, the same applies to weed.
    Do it in moderation, there's little, to no, problem with doing it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    In the states far more people die due to prescribed pharmaceuticals, one more area where people who no very little about the subject legislate for everyone else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    "The Centre for Social Justice - set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith".

    Right, so it's going to be impartial and use statistics correctly. Not. Presumably it's findings will always be based on IDS's 'beliefs' rather than the facts, in the same way as IDS runs the DWP.

    "There are 4 kinds of lies : Lies, dammed lies, statistics and IDS's beliefs".

    Safe to ignore this report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    I work in a teaching hospital, and more than 1/3rd of daily medical admissions are alcohol related.To remember, in 2009 the chief drug adviser was sacked, as he said, ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol.

    The CSJ chairwoman has reviewed the current situation: 'much more need to be done to tackle the root cause of addiction..'. Just wondering, what have we been doing so far?


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