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 257.

    'It said a faster system of prohibition was needed to deal with legal highs.' Prohibition has failed with conventional drugs, so why push it as a means to deal with this new wave of drugs. When I was a teen and in my twenties the 'just say no' campaign in conjunction with Grange Hill made heroin a no go area for millions. Now teens see it as just another drug to try. Good education is the key.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    The governments way to tackle abuse problems is:

    1. Keep alcohol prices as cheap as possible.
    2. Cut benefits so people look for ways to escape reality.
    3. Cut police budgets.
    4. Cut programs that get people in work (especially youth)
    5. Cut nurses and doctors

    Seems to me the only thing that's not being cut is the grass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    Labour had years to get on top of the drug/alcohol abuse while it was in office
    but no they just put the abusers on benefits and patted them on the head and said "don't worry it's society's fault so we will look after you ,no need to stop taking drugs or drinking yourself to death ,we will support you and your families financially"

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Alcohol and Tobacco the biggest killers is perfectly fine as long as the government gets its taxes! what astonishes me is that the revenue earned from legalising and of course taxing marijuana could be reinvested to stem the flow of excessiveness and the cause of addiction however they are simply ignorant and refuse to do it!!! What is up with that?

  • Comment number 253.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Our local tramp claims disability allowance, as a registered alcoholic. The taxpayer is treated to the sight of him staggering around the village at 10 o'clock in the morning, having already consumed five or six cans of extra-strength lager, purchased at the local branch of a retail society.
    This man has no hope of rehabilitation, because the welfare state fuels his addiction.
    It's madness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Illegal/legal doesn't make a difference. There are addiction problems and crime with both.

    This is a social/cultural thing and needs tackling in that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    If the government is going to ban all of these substances. Why not just blanket ban all new chemical substances and then white-list the drugs/chemicals which have been properly tested and approved? That way, we could save all of the time and money banning each one.

    People would stop bothering to manufacture their drugs, knowing that they would be illegal to begin with!

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Who's paying for IDS think tank? I thought Quangos were out now the tories are in power?
    Surely IDS knows that drinks company lobbies need to be tackled - can't he just talk to some of his tory consultancy chums - go Route One so to speak.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Start treating booze the way they treat tobacco and alcohol abuse will reduce but they won't ban adverts & stop supermarkets selling it stupidly cheap because the alcohol lobby groups have so much influence on parliament.
    Simple as.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    No mention of Nicotine addition that is killing around 100,000 people per year ( statistic from ASH website). It must be time to ban cigarettes completely or at at least in all public places.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.


    1) FrankFisher @ 52 has been lowest rated yet speaks the truth. Those on benefits with an addiction get extra cash to feed their habit."

    No they don't - except chronic alcoholics ironically, who *may* get Incapacity Benefit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    Though he is a Tory I have a lot of time for IDS. Like him or loathe him he is no soapbox kneejerk politician and spent years in Opposition quietly working on Welfare reforms to reduce the benefits culture. Whether or not you agree with him he makes informed decisions. The CSJ is his creation but their (not his) drugs report will no doubt influence future policy. I wish HYS had similar power!

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    The question is "Why do so many people in this country feel the need to change the way they feel by using mind altering drugs?" Our society needs to reflect long and hard on this question and both central and local government should be encouraging such introspection. Government might set an example to the rest of us by reflecting on just what kind of message they are sending out to the population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    This proves the point that our drugs (inc Alcohol) policy is ineffective and causes harm..

    Time to assess all drugs in terms of risk and damage scientifically rather than enduring social mores.

    Be warned if science is used / adhered to Alcohol will be much higher on the risk / damage scale than it does in our "social" judgement of risk / damage scale

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    i don't know about drugs, but with drink......the researchers need to do a bit more traveling on mainland Europe, what we call 'going out on the town' some Europeans call 'having a couple after work'

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Our prisons are full of illegal drugs, which shows how well prohibition works.
    And yet the answer to the legal high problem is to ban them faster.
    Creative thinking at its best.

    Banning created the market for these chemists, who can always add a molecule here or there to stay one step ahead of legislation.

    Time for some new thinking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    They are not to big to touch as for a police chief saying this they wont be police officers or chiefs for very long together with other officers who adopt that attitude In fact those who think they are too big to touch a also seriously mistaken Its easy to make them targets esepcially with the net very easy to do

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    Does it really surprise anybody.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    1) FrankFisher @ 52 has been lowest rated yet speaks the truth. Those on benefits with an addiction get extra cash to feed their habit

    2) HMG needs to find out why some people in the UK have sunk so low as to fill themselves with poison

    This is a "sink" country now

    We have little to no border control so I am not shocked that we are flooded with this crap.

    Please don't take drugs


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