Ireland has one of the worst levels of abuse of new synthetic drugs, according to the European drugs agency.
While the country has limited usage of the substances by banning the drugs and closing headshops, the same powders and pills are now being supplied online and by crime gangs.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said there had been a four-fold jump in the number of online shops selling an increasing array of new substances.
EU commissioner for home affairs, Cecilia Malmstroem, said the surge in the trade of new drugs was “very alarming”.
Speaking at the launch of their 2012 annual report in Lisbon, the head of the European drugs agency, Wolfgang Gotz, said the EU “cannot ignore the threat” posed by a “rapid increase” in use of new drugs.
The report said a 2011 survey found Irish young people (15-24 years) topped the table for use of what are often called legal highs.
About 16% said they had used the drugs at some stage in their lives, compared to an EU average of 5%. After Ireland came Latvia, Poland, and Britain, at about 10%.
In addition, a population survey here in 2010/2011 found 3.5% of adults and 6.7% of young adults (15-34 years) had used new psychoactive substances.
The highest levels of usage in the last year was among 15-24 year olds at 10%.
The Health Research Board, which supplied the Irish data, said Ireland has had “notable success in limiting the sale of new psychoactive substances through legislation”.
It said trends in Irish usage should be available in the future.
The Irish Examiner previously reported that 60kg and 90,000 tablets containing new psychoactive substances were seized in 2011, after they were made illegal. The trend has continued this year.
The report said the number of online shops selling the drugs had jumped from 170 in 2010, to 314 in 2011 and to 693 in 2012.
It said 164 new psychoactive drugs had been identified between 2005 and 2011, increasing each year: 24 in 2009, 41 in 2010, and 49 in 2011.
Mr Gotz said that 57 new drugs had been reported so far this year. He said there were more “obscure” chemicals and that more needed to be done to improve forensic science capabilities.
The report said many powders and pills contained “multiple substances”.
Ms Malmstroem said users were not aware of the risks and “sometimes deadly effects”.
She admitted European authorities were “running a little bit behind all the time” in responding to trends.
She said the EU had little contact with authorities in China and India, where these drugs were made.
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