Drugs in Europe: Cannabis use burdens health systems – Politics

A man smokes a joint with marijuana (icon image). Photo: picture alliance / dpa / Daniel Karmann

The United Nations warns of the consequences of increasingly potent and legally available cannabis. But other drugs are also cause for concern. Because they appear in new sales markets.

According to a United Nations (UN) report, the increasing consumption of cannabis is putting an additional burden on health care facilities. In the European Union (EU), hemp medicines account for about 30 percent of drug therapies, according to an annual report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna, released on Monday. In Africa and some Latin American countries, most such therapies are related to cannabis addiction.

The increasing market power of hashish and marijuana, combined with regular use, has led to an increase in addiction and mental illness in Western Europe, according to the UNODC. In North America, as a result of the legalization of cannabis, consumption is also on the rise – especially among young adults. A growing proportion of psychiatric disorders and suicides there are linked to regular cannabis use, the report said. Hospital stays are also increasing. UNODC acknowledged that the legal sale of these drugs increased tax revenues and reduced arrests for possession of cannabis.

The Semafor coalition wants to introduce cannabis shops

The federal government’s commissioner for addictions and drugs, Burkhard Blienert, saw the figures as confirmation of the coalition’s plans. The SPD, Greens and FDP agreed in the coalition agreement to introduce “controlled sales of cannabis to adults for recreational purposes in licensed shops”. “Nobody should have to fear prosecution for cannabis consumption in the future anymore,” Blienert (SPD) told media group Funke’s newspaper (Tuesday’s edition). “Our goal must be that people with problem spending can access the local advice and help system sooner and better.”

The report also analyzed environmental pollution by drugs. Therefore, growing cannabis indoors causes 16 to 100 times more CO2 emissions than outdoors due to higher energy requirements. Cocaine production emits 30 times more CO2 than the cocoa beans that could be planted instead. According to the UNODC, illicit drugs do not have a significant impact on the environment on a global scale. Locally, however, significant damage can occur, for example from chemical waste from the production of synthetic drugs or from deforestation for the cultivation of coca plants.

Opioids kill thousands of people

In terms of health harm, the United Nations Drug Control Organization is most concerned about opioids in North America. One of these heroin-like substances is fentanyl. According to preliminary estimates, about 108,000 people will die of overdoses in the United States in 2021, a 17 percent increase from the previous year. The UNODC is talking about another “opioid epidemic” caused by abuse of the painkiller tramadol in North and West Africa and the Middle East. There is also evidence of tramadol use in Asia and Europe.

The UN agency is also concerned that other stronger drugs will find new markets. The seizures indicate that cocaine trafficking is expanding beyond the main distribution areas of North America and Europe to Africa and Asia. Methamphetamine, which is also a stimulant, is no longer just a problem in East and Southeast Asia, but also in countries like Afghanistan and Mexico.

UNODC estimates that 284 million young people and adults use drugs. These calculations are based on the latest available figures from 2020. More than 11 million people inject drugs with a syringe. Half of them are infected with hepatitis C, 1.4 million live with HIV.


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