Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Times, The (Malta)
Contact:  2006 Allied Newspapers Limited
Website: http://www.timesofmalta.com/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/
Author: Ariadne Massa, in Brussels
Note: The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 
report is at http://www.emcdda.europa.eu

EUROPEAN STUDY ON DRUGS, PRICES IN MALTA AMONG HIGHEST

Malta remains among the most expensive countries when it comes to
the purchase of illicit drugs even if prices on Europe's streets
become cheaper than ever before, according to a new report.

The report, by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug
Addiction, shows that the average retail price for cannabis grass, LSD
and amphetamines in Malta remains the highest in Europe when compared
to its counterparts.

Launched at the European Parliament yesterday, the annual report on
The State Of The Drugs Problem In Europe is based on data from the 25
EU member states and Norway and, where available, from Bulgaria,
Romania and Turkey.

For the first time, the EMCDDA managed to extrapolate a trend analysis
on the drug prices in Europe, which shows a remarkable drop between
1999 and 2004 - as much as 47 per cent for ecstasy, 45 per cent for
heroin, 22 per cent for cocaine, 19 per cent for cannabis resin and 12
per cent for cannabis grass.

The report reveals wide discrepancies in price between one country and
another and while in 2004 the average retail price of cannabis grass
stood at 2.30 per gram in Portugal, in Malta it was selling for
11.60 per gram.

Cannabis use remains low in Malta compared to an estimated 22.5
million European adults who have used cannabis over the last year,
about seven per cent of them aged 15-64. Figures range between one per
cent and 11 per cent, with the lowest rates reported in Malta, Greece,
and Bulgaria, and the highest in Spain, France and the UK.

The average retail price for amphetamine is also the highest on
Malta's streets: in 2004 it ranged from 4 per gram in Slovenia to 64
per gram in Malta.

LSD does not come cheap either and the average cost to users of an LSD
unit ranged from 2.50 in Portugal to 11.60 in Malta.

Cocaine, while not the most costly in Europe, is still relatively high
in Malta at nearly 90 per gram (in Cyprus it sells at an average
retail price of 100 per gram).

Ecstasy seems to be one of the few drugs that comes cheaper in Malta
than in most member states, selling at an average 10.70 per tablet,
when compared to 25 per tablet in Italy.

The average price of brown heroin in Malta is 60 per gram, compared
to 12 in Turkey and 141 in Sweden.

EMCDDA director Wolfgang Gotz told a press conference that the
monitoring centre was studying the implications of the falling prices
and how much they reflected changes in the supply or demand.

"I think, though, that this analysis raises some potentially important
questions and reinforces, in my mind, the relevance of the work we are
doing at the moment to better understand the dynamics of the drug
markets," he said.

EMCDDA chairman Marcel Reiman added that price was just one of the
many factors influencing people's decisions to take drugs, but at
present "we see no simple relationship between general consumption
levels and the price of drugs on the street".

"If this means that those who have a tendency to consume drugs will
use them more, then the ultimate cost of drug-taking in terms of
healthcare and damage to our communities is likely to be
considerable," he added.

Is it interesting to note that while prices for illicit drugs have
plummeted, the total quantities of heroin seized in Europe have been
increasingly steadily since 1999.

In 2004, a record 19 tonnes of heroin was confiscated, up by 10 per
cent over the previous year. In Malta too, drug squad police made
record hits last year, seizing more heroin (15.5kg), cocaine (6.4kg)
and ecstasy (17,300 pills) than in the previous 10 years. They also
registered the third largest haul of cannabis (21.5kg) in the past
decade.

Despite the encouraging amounts seized across Europe, the production
of heroin is up. Afghanistan remains the world leader in the supply of
illicit opium, accounting for an estimated 89 per cent of production
last year (4,100 tonnes).

Mr Gotz said heroin use and drug injecting remain major public health
issues in Europe for the foreseeable future.

"Heroin is no longer a fashionable drug and overall we see an ageing
population of problem drug users accessing treatment and care, with
only seven per cent of clients seeking treatment for the first time
being aged under 20," he said.

Higher estimates of problem opioid use (mostly heroin) are reported by
Malta, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and Austria (five to eight cases per
1,000 inhabitants aged 15-64 years).

On a positive note, it is estimated that in the EU more than half a
million opioid users received substitution treatment in 2003, which
represents one third of the currently estimated 1.5 million problem
opioid users.

In some countries there have been further increases in methadone
treatment provision, but in eight countries, the numbers of people
receiving such treatment stabilised or decreased. Four of these
countries - Malta, Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands - have a profile
of long-standing heroin use and highly accessible methadone
substitution programmes.

However, Mr Gotz said the epidemic nature of drug problems had taught
that society may witness a new generation of young people becoming
vulnerable to heroin use.

"We cannot ignore the dangers posed by a growing surplus of heroin on
the global illicit market."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake