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Wednesday, 11 October, 2000, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
UK tops drugs survey
Joint rolling
Most people who try drugs do so out of curiosity
A greater percentage of UK adults use cannabis than in any other country of the European Union, according to a survey of drug abuse.

One in ten British adults use the drug, or have done in the last 12 months, the European Union Drugs Agency figures suggest.

And the problem is also common in schools, where almost half of all pupils have tried cannabis by the time they leave.

By contrast, the figures show that only 7% of teenagers in Portugal and Sweden have tried drugs.

The proportion of UK adults to have smoked cannabis within the past year is double the European average.

But throughout Europe use of almost all drugs, except ecstasy, is on the increase.

Zero tolerance

The extent of cannabis usage was illustrated last week, when eight senior Conservatives all revealed they had tried the drug.

Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe
Widdecombe called for 'zero tolerance'
At the party's annual conference, the Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe called for a policy of zero tolerance of drug abuse. She advocated 100 spot fines for anyone caught in possession.

Although Conservative leader William Hague approved her remarks, the party looks to have dropped the proposal after it was widely criticised.

In any case, the EU Drugs Agency has said the level of a drug problem has little direct link with national drug policies.

The agency has found there are 1.5 million problem drug users, most of them heroin addicts.

In the UK there are five problem heroin users per thousand people in the country. The ratio is worse in Luxembourg and Italy.

Social problems

Fewer young people are taking to heroin, so the addict population is getting older and many are suffering health problems.

The agency predicts this will create serious social problems throughout Europe.

EU Drug Use
Cannabis is most commonly used drug
Denmark has highest overall use of cannabis
Cocaine use rising in Europe

Although Denmark tops the table for cannabis use over the past decade, the recent increase in usage in the UK means that it currently has the highest proportion of users among the EU states.

The second most popular drugs after cannabis are amphetamines and ecstasy, although the decline in rave culture means fewer people take ecstasy.

In some countries, notably Spain and Britain, the researchers found that hard drugs were getting cheaper.

In the UK the price of brown, smokeable heroin has dropped significantly in the past three years.

Women drug users face more social problems than men. The report says women are reluctant to admit they have a problem and seek help.

The agency says EU countries should make extra efforts to help women who use drugs.

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See also:

09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Zero tolerance 'would not work'
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory admission sparks dope debate
09 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Hague dumps Widdecombe drugs plan
08 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Tory drug confessors join growing club
05 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Widdecombe stands by drugs policy
04 Oct 00 | Conservatives
Tories get tough on drugs
24 Jan 00 | UK Politics
Senior Lib Dem tried cannabis
16 Jan 00 | UK Politics
I smoked cannabis, admits Mowlam
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