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25th September 2017

Drugs in Europe: French youth is at the top of the list

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published in June its 2017 report on drugs. This report assesses drug use, trafficking and its dangerousness in Europe, Turkey and Norway. This report also includes data from ESPAD, a study conducted every 4 years on drug use among teenagers aged between 15 and 16 years old.

Cannabis is still in the lead

In Europe, cannabis remains the most likely illicit drug. The number of adults who have used cannabis is estimated at 87.7 million. It is five times more common than other drugs: cocaine (17.5 million), MDMA (the active principle of ecstasy, 14 million) or amphetamines (12.5 million).

In France, cannabis is leading, with 22.1% of young adults who consumed it in the past year (the highest percentage in the 30 countries included in the study). In comparison, cocaine is 2.4%, MDMA 2.3% and amphetamines 0.7% (data for 2014). Cannabis use has been increasing since 2010.

Until recently, the use of MDMA was declining, but this trend seems to be reversing for several countries. With regard to the consumption per year of young adults (15-34 years), France and Finland reported strong increases in 2014, according to the latest data. Consumption of cocaine has also stopped falling to stabilize or even increase, as in France. The use of Ketamine (an anesthetic), GHB and hallucinogens remains limited, as is the case of amphetamines. Heroin and other opiates (morphine, etc.) are little consumed, but their use is more risky, because of their mode of consumption by injection. However, the practice of injection continues to decline.

French youth is consuming drugs more than others

Regarding the consumption of the youngest (15-16 years), they are almost always above the European average, disregarding of the drug type, legal or not (tobacco and alcohol). Especially in cannabis: 31% of French youth reported using cannabis, almost twice as much as the European average (18%). Only the Czech Republic did worse, with 37%.

For their consumption during the past month, France is still at the top with 17% of young people concerned, while the European average is at 8%. Nevertheless, although still important, the use (at least once in the lifetime) of cannabis, cigarettes and alcohol is slightly lower for all young people than in previous years.

Drug-related deaths on the rise

The report shows an increase in overdose deaths in Europe for the third consecutive year. The majority of these deaths are related to opiates (81%).

With 7 deaths per million inhabitants, France is doing better than its neighbors. It occupies the 6th place. In comparison, the United Kingdom is at 60 cases per million, Estonia at 103.

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24th September 2017

"The role of awareness strategies in curbing the growth of drugs" (2)

Studies yield fruits when their results are based upon a practical reality on the field, as well as when relevant suggestions are close to real implementation and are based on feasible and non-structural mechanisms.

In my study on "The role of awareness strategies in curbing the growth of drugs" I have come up with some results from practical reality, which I quote:

• Awareness has not received sufficient attention from researchers and academics and is still classified as being a post-crime step and sometimes as a warning against crime.

• Population segments that are targeted by outreach programs differ because some group lack knowledge on the topic in question, while another has made a decision before even addressing the topic. Hence, the intervention must be based on innovative and unconventional programs.

• The rate of delinquent behavior increases in individuals to whom the community does not provide adequate opportunities and circumstances to achieve their goals. This is the case when tasks are not distributed equitably and legitimately among individuals, i.e. they do not have the same chance of achieving objectives and receiving rewards.

• Professional criminals use new tricks to attract young people into delinquent behavior or crime encouraged by the community institutions’ inability to follow up, as the family and community are only concerned in secondary matters not relevant to the future of our countries and their strategic security.

• Awareness programs play an important and effective role in reducing crime, but most of the time, the media deals with the topic in a superficial way without mentioning precise information about the problem. Moreover, the issue is addressed from an individual perspective without focusing on causes or taking expert advice or reporting data from scientific and reliable sources.

• Our societies suffer from a lack of professionals in the field of narcotics, in addition to the lack of expertise and professionalism in raising awareness about crime and delinquent behavior, which increases the gap between the media and community safety.

On the other hand, I have developed several proposals, which include the following:

• Addressing the situation and finding collective solutions, are the two best ways to involve community members in this fight, with the development of future and predictive plans. These two methods facilitate the study of the social and psychological problems to be faced by community members in the future.

• The community must pay attention to vulnerable segments of the population who are prone to delinquency. It must monitor them by limiting activities that are incompatible with the ethics and customs of the society, and that lead to undermining educational programmes and to a faded sense of citizenship, which exposes homeland security to a genuine thread.

• Build a sustainable partnership between all ministries, civil society organizations and institutions through joint cooperation to implement all decisions and recommendations related to raising awareness and the implementation of the slogan "Security is the responsibility of all ".

• Adopt the method of using scenarios, and the emergency or situation method, since they are the best two methods for the success of outreach strategies when developing future and predictive plans. Moreover, these methods facilitate investigation of the causes of increased crime and psycho-social problems.

• Get assistance from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) guidelines and respond to the repeated calls the UNODC sends to governments all over the world. These calls must be translated into messages to be conveyed to all segments of the community in order to develop awareness programs against crime including the  scourge of drugs, to protect individuals from delinquency and drug addiction.

• Focus on a targeted outreach strategy in order to reduce crime and delinquent behavior, by basing it upon scientific research tools in designing effective messages and guaranteed results. Moreover, there needs also to be a focus on human behavior, the communication process, the spread of message in a timely manner, while providing accurate information about the size of the problems or crimes.

In conclusion, we still have other upcoming publications devoted to examining different strategies to protect community members from falling in the trap of drug.

Dr. Ayed Ali Al-Humaidan

International expert in the field of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances

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21st September 2017

Internet addiction affects the entire world

Internet addiction affects not only adults, but also children, especially with the constant development of computer games. This addiction is reflected negatively on the child's life, his sleep and his studies. He becomes introverted, does not go out with his friends and does not practice any other activity besides the relentless browsing on the net.

The American professor of psychology, John Grohl has conducted a study on internet addicted people from different cultures and countries, including the Arab world. It was based on direct communication with these patients via chat rooms or e-mail. The results of the study showed that internet addiction is a progressive process.

The study also concluded that new internet users are usually those who connect the most because of their internet fascination. However, after a while, these users are disappointed because they find themselves unable to fulfill their personal ambitions and needs through the internet. But some of these users are not able to go through these early steps quickly, they take a lot of time and in results these are the most vulnerable categories to internet addiction.

On the other hand, Grohl found that people vulnerable to internet addiction often have a strong attraction for the mental excitement provided by the vast amount of information available on the internet. The internet addict feels very anxious and tense when his computer is disconnected from the network, he is constantly on the lookout for his next internet use and does not feel time passing by as long as he is connected to the network.

For its part, the American Psychological Association (APA) has warned at a recent conference that the phenomenon of cyberdependence exists throughout the world and is not limited only to the United States. There has even been the appearance of a new social group of women called "Internet Widows" because of their husband's involvement in illegal online relationships, resulting in the neglect of their conjugal duties. In addition, the cyber-addict spends several hours sitting in front of his computer, which causes back pain, eye fatigue and a drop in performance at work or school.

Psychologists advise women whose husbands are victims of internet addiction and internet widows to rely upon themselves to treat their husbands, rather than resort to others who may have practical experience but cannot accompany their husbands throughout the day.

Experts advise spouses to use dialogue and communication to convince their husbands in different ways instead of quarreling with them about their internet addiction. They can ask them to wait until they have breakfast with them and spend 15 minutes with the rest of the family before consulting their electronic inbox. Wives can also rearrange the house and place the computer in the living room instead of the bedroom for example. They can help addicted husbands in redistributing the hours of network connection, reducing them gradually to a safe level of about 20 hours per week only and organizing them according to the days of the week.

Experts also advise spouses to organize discussion sessions between family members to exchange views on their problems while progressively pushing their husbands to get involved in these discussions, make social visits and devote more time to sports to help him live and enjoy the real life.

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20th September 2017

Drugs worry Estonia

Estonia is still maintaining the record number of drug overdose deaths in Europe. In 2015, 103 people died from drugs overdose in Estonia, five times the total European rate, according to the Estonian daily Ohtuleht.

The Estonian newspaper believes that addiction is a disease rather than a phenomenon. It thus joins the Estonian National Center for the Fight Against Addictions and stresses that the responsibility or blame does not fall only on the addict, especially since the International Health Organization has classified addiction "as a disease in the same way like depression, anxiety, diabetes or high blood pressure.

The paper advises its government to follow the example of international institutions that have classified addiction as a disease. In other words, the treatment of addiction must be subject to certain medical rules, specific medications and periods of therapy and recovery.

Considering addiction as a disease will relieve the pain of many families and will save many drug addicts. The public health budget in Estonia will also be positively affected.

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19th September 2017

A scientific research finds a way of reducing tobacco dependence

Formal health agencies in Britain and the United States announced a plan to reduce the proportion of nicotine in cigarettes, which would make them less addictive and would reduce tobacco use rates in both countries.

In a recent study, a team of scientists examined how reducing nicotine levels could affect smokers' habits, focusing on women, adolescents and those suffering from health problems.

The study found that reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes reduces also addiction rates. Indeed, a decrease in the nicotine quantity in cigarettes reduces their attractiveness for relatively healthy smokers.

"This study provides a very encouraging indication that decreasing the quantity of nicotine in cigarettes will help smokers quit smoking, which helps to improve public health," said Professor Stephen Higgins who led the study .

In light of this study’s results, the US Food and Drug Administration will impose changes to cigarettes to "protect children and significantly reduce tobacco-related illnesses".

However, there will be major challenges when implementing this solution, as this could lead to the creation of a black market for imported cigarettes containing nicotine, which would require the worldwide generalization of the idea.

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17th September 2017

Preventing and reducing drug overdoses — a priority for the EMCDDA

International Overdose Awareness Day is an annual event, held on 31 August, to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of drug-related death. The EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) marks the day by highlighting its latest figures on overdose deaths in Europe and expressing support for interventions that prevent such harms.

Latest evidence from the EMCDDA shows that drug overdose deaths in Europe have risen for the third consecutive year. A total of 8 441 overdose deaths, mainly related to heroin and other opioids, are estimated to have occurred in Europe in 2015 (28 EU, Turkey and Norway), representing a 6% increase on the 2014 figure of 7 950 in the 30 countries. Preliminary data for 2016 suggest that this increasing trend is continuing. Europe’s 1.3 million problem opioid users are among the most vulnerable.

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel says: ‘Through its Strategy 2025, the EMCDDA is committed to contributing to a healthier Europe by acting as a catalyst for improving the quality and delivery of responses to reduce the health and social consequences of drug use. This requires us to keep abreast of new prevention, treatment and harm-reduction approaches and support our stakeholders in identifying and adopting best practices. One of our priorities is to help tackle the thousands of premature and preventable drug-related deaths that occur every year’.

Heroin, often taken with other substances, is present in the majority of fatal overdoses reported in Europe, with the most recent data showing a rise in heroin-related deaths in several European countries. North America has also experienced rising levels of heroin use and considerable morbidity and mortality associated with the misuse of prescription opioids.

In Europe and North America, highly potent synthetic opioids, which mimic the effects of heroin and morphine, are also growing health threat. While representing a small share of the market, there are increasing reports of the emergence of these substances and of the harms they cause, including non-fatal intoxications and deaths. Twenty-five new synthetic opioids were detected in Europe between 2009 and 2016 (18 of these were fentanils, which are subject to particular scrutiny).

Preventing drug-related harms and offering effective treatment to those with substance use problems are central pillars of Europe’s response to drugs. A strong evidence base supports the appropriate use of opioid substitution treatment (OST) to reduce morbidity and mortality.

Interventions to prevent overdoses in Europe include supervised drug consumption room (DCRs), which aim to prevent overdoses from occurring and ensure professional support if an overdose occurs. DCRs now operate in six EU countries and Norway (78 facilities in total). In recent years, there has been a growth in the provision of ‘take-home’ naloxone (opioid overdose-reversal drug) to opioid users, their peers and families, alongside training in recognising and responding to overdose. Take-home naloxone programmes now exist in nine EU countries and Norway.

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