"Generally, between 1995 and 2011, there was an increase in the lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use, most of which occurred between 1995 and 1999. Since 2011, the prevalence has started to decrease slowly. The lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use among boys and girls follows a parallel trend, with the rate among girls being about 5-6 percentage points lower than that among boys (Figure 21).
"Overall, an average of 2.5% of the students had used NPS at least once in the last 12 months, with the highest prevalence reported in Czechia, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and Monaco (4.0-4.9%) and the lowest prevalence reported in North Macedonia, Finland and Portugal ( 0.4-0.8%; Figure 10a).
"Lifetime use of illicit drugs varied considerably across the ESPAD countries (Table 8a). On average, 17% of ESPAD students reported having used any illicit drug at least once. The highest percentage of students reporting lifetime use of any illicit drug was found in Czechia (29%), followed by Italy (28%), Latvia (27%) and Slovakia (25%). Particularly low levels (10% or less) of illicit drug use were noted in Kosovo, Iceland, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Serbia, Sweden, Norway, Greece and Romania.
"The reasons for the more pronounced psychoactive effects and severe and fatal poisoning seen with synthetic cannabinoids are not particularly well understood, but at least two factors are likely to be important: the high potency of the substances and the unintentionally high doses that users are exposed to.
"Synthetic cannabinoids, also known as synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists, are a group of drugs that mimic the effects of a substance found in cannabis called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for many of the psychoactive effects of cannabis which give that feeling of being ‘stoned’ or ‘high’ (Gaoni and Mechoulam, 1964; Huestis et al., 2001; Pertwee, 2005a; Pertwee, 2014). These effects are caused by activating a receptor in the brain called the cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1 receptor) (Huestis et al., 2001; Pertwee, 2014).
"Since 2012, a total of 28 new fentanils have been identified on Europe’s drug market. This includes eight substances that were reported for the first time in 2016 and 10 during 2017. During this period, there has also been a large increase in seizures reported by customs at international borders and police at street-level (Figure 4) (see also ‘Reducing the risk of occupational exposure to fentanils’, page 11). While the picture differs widely across Europe, 23 countries have reported detections of one or more of these substances (Figure 5) (2).
"Alongside their legitimate uses as medicines and in research, the fentanils also have a long history of illicit use as replacements for heroin and other controlled opioids. Between 1979 and 1988, more than 10 fentanils that had been made in illicit laboratories were detected on the drug market in the United States (Henderson, 1991). The first was alpha-methylfentanyl, followed by substances such as 3-methylfentanyl and 4-fluorofentanyl. Typically, they were sold as heroin or ‘synthetic heroin’.
"Reflecting consumer demand, the market in new benzodiazepines appears to have grown over the past few years. The EMCDDA is currently monitoring 23 of these substances, including six that were reported for the first time in 2016 and three during 2017. While the overall number of seizures reported by law enforcement during 2016 decreased compared with 2015, the quantity reported increased. More than half a million tablets containing new benzodiazepines such as diclazepam, etizolam, flubromazolam, flunitrazolam and fonazepam were reported during 2016 — which was about 70 % more than in 2015.
"Reflecting their use as legal replacements for cocaine, amphetamine and other controlled stimulants, there were more than 23 000 seizures of synthetic cathinones reported from across Europe in 2016 (Figure 3). These account for almost one-third of the total number of seizures of new substances over the year, and amounted to almost 1.9 tonnes, making synthetic cathinones the most commonly seized new psychoactive substances by quantity in 2016. The EMCDDA is currently monitoring 130 of these substances, including 14 that were reported for the first time in 2016 and 12 during 2017.