“Multiple drug addiction” is a growing threat in Europe, warns the head of the anti-drugs agency

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European drug users are taking increasingly diverse cocktails of stimulants, painkillers and tranquilizers as “polydrug addiction” becomes a growing threat to public health, the European drugs monitoring agency has warned.

The trend covers people who deliberately mix opioids with tranquilizers such as Valium, and those who unwittingly consume dangerous mixtures such as “pink cocaine” and other novel products offered by drug gangs.

Alexis Goosdeel, director of EMCDDA, the Lisbon-based European drug monitoring agency, said the growing use of two or more substances at the same time, or in sequence, was part of a proliferating drug problem. which spread “everywhere, everywhere, everyone”.

“We have never had so many drugs available in Europe,” he told the Financial Times. “We are receiving the largest quantity of drugs ever seen. . . and at the same time, a very large quantity of medicines are produced in Europe.”

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the EU: around 22.8 million people (8 percent) among 15-64 year olds are estimated to have used it in the past year, according to a report by the EMCDDA published Tuesday.

Cocaine is the second most popular drug, used by around 4 million adults in the EU in the past year. The most commonly used illicit opioid is heroin.

But Goosdeel said the rise of “polydrug abuse” was marked by the prevalence of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl – responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths and an unprecedented crisis in the United States – and tranquilizers such as Valium and Xanax.

“There are people who combine different substances to (increase) some of their effects or to reduce them,” Goosdeel said. “But it is clear that polyconsumption, particularly of new psychoactive substances, increases the risk of intoxication because there is a possible negative interaction between these substances.”

The agency said opioids were present in 74 percent of fatal overdoses. Goosdeel added that autopsies often also revealed the presence of tranquilizers.

Next month, its 30-year-old organization is expected to be renamed the European Medicines Agency and given a broader mandate, to monitor drug use, anticipate new threats and develop prevention and treatment measures.

Polydrug use has a long history, including the use of cocaine with alcohol. Goosdeel noted that in the 1990s, some addicts who had taken MDMA, or ecstasy, used heroin to ease their later depression.

The agency also warned that some people were unknowingly using substances containing a mixture of drugs that producers and dealers had deliberately misrepresented.

“Pink cocaine,” a brightly colored powder with a longer history in Latin America, was discovered in Europe to contain ketamine and ecstasy. The agency is also monitoring “tranq-dope”, which mixes synthetic opioids and an animal sedative called xylazine, which has been found on the UK illicit drug market.

On heroin, the agency said it had seen no evidence of any disruption in drug flows to the EU despite the Taliban’s ban on opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan, the main producing country, in 2022.

Goosdeel said satellite images indicated that 95 to 98 percent of opium production in Afghanistan had ceased, but that the stockpiling of heroin along trafficking routes to Europe meant there was no no impact on supplies yet.

“But it’s certainly something we need to continue to monitor,” he said. “There will likely be a shortage of heroin on the European market and consumers may therefore shift their consumption towards synthetic drugs.”

Besides fentanyl, another group of dangerous synthetic opioids, called nitazenes – sometimes sold as “synthetic heroin” – is increasingly present in Europe.

Switching to such drugs “could potentially be very dangerous because these substances are much more potent than heroin,” Goosdeel said.