A new study shows that millions of Europeans have tried ecstasy. Contrary to the stereotype of drug users being marginalised and suffering from their drug use, most are professionals or students.
Between three million and 3.5 million adults in the EU have probably tried ecstasy at least once, says a European drug monitoring body.
Up to half a million have taken it once a week or more at some time in their lives, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
In a review of the situation across the EU’s 15 member states, the Lisbon-based agency found that most users of ecstasy and other synthetic drugs are not people on the “margins” of society or in any way disadvantaged.
Instead, most are students or young professionals, most of them relatively well off.
“These trends seem to have established themselves rapidly across the EU,” said Mike Trace, the Centre’s chairman.
“The main reasons people say they consume ecstasy is to feel more pleasure when they dance, and to have fun,” the Centre said in statement.
“Other recreative drugs are consumed to gain confidence or energy, or in search of new experiences.”
Whilst noting that reducing the risks to the ever greater numbers of “normal” young people who take drugs is one of the main concerns of policy-makers at local, national and international level, the centre warned of the need for responses to the problem to be realistic and well-founded.
“The consequences and risks of recreative consumption of drugs should be the object of scientific assessment,” it said.
In particular, it called for action to break the close link between excessive consumption of (legal) alcohol – “the mind-altering substance most frequently consumed for recreative purposes” – and (illegal) drugs.
To be effective, it said, such action should be taken in cooperation with bars and clubs on the one hand, and the drinks industry on the other.
The work of the centre in monitoring developments in member states and acting as an information exchange is at the heart of an increasing tendency for EU member states to learn lessons from each other’s experiences and move more in step in policy terms.
Recent developments include, in Portugal, the decriminalisation of possession and consumption of small quantities of any drug, and in the UK the downgrading of cannabis to a class C drug – effectively decriminalising its possession and use.
The centre is one of a number of specialised institutions under the aegis of the European Commission, each based in a different EU member states.
BBC Health, posted 23 November 2002, accessed 25 November 2002