Heroin is targeting Europe’s most thriving economies
Opioid dependence seems to be a never ending burden for humanity. People have used opiates for thousands of years, mostly in ritual purposes, but the modern age showed that for some, opiates have become the means to escape the daunting reality. What is even more concerning, different research have concluded that opioid addicts are very likely to suffer one or more psychiatric commodities. Among the most ‘popular’, but also most addictive and damaging of the opiates out there is heroin. Apparently, what comes as one of Europe’s greatest problems is not the financial crisis, but a large raise in drug addiction all throughout the continent. Annual drug reports show that over 15m Europeans have tried drugs at least once in their lifetime. The challenge is even bigger, given the estimate that the global number of drug addicts is certainly going to rise by at least 25% by 2050, according to a report issued by the United Nations.
Europe has no shortage of heroin from Afghanistan, which enters the continent smuggled through the Balkan Peninsula. Namely, since 2010, the production of opium has risen by more than 60%. The rise in supply resulted with a decrease of price, making this powerful drug even more available on the streets. Although cannabis and cocaine remain the most commonly used illicit drugs throughout Europe, there are ever growing numbers of heroin addicts.
Surprisingly, the rise of drug abuse is not on the continent’s margins, but right in its heart: the United Kingdom has been proclaimed as ‘Europe’s addictions capital’. According to a recent research, one in 12 youngsters has reported to having taken drugs, which is by far the highest rate in Europe. Even more, in the last few years there have been numerous cuts of funding rehab programs allegedly ‘due to the financial crises. There is also the concern that many of those programs are not able to provide heroin addicts an effective treatment, since reports show that almost a third of addicts taking drug-substitute prescriptions have been using them for more than four years, and one in 25 to use them for more than 10 years. The rise of heroin addicts is not only damaging to the economy, but the lives destroyed are the greatest tragedy.
In Italy, seeing people shooting heroin in the streets has become somewhat of a ‘normal’ sight. Only in Milan, Europe’s capital of fashion and thriving industrial center, there are around 100.000 heroin addicts. The problem is even greater given the fact that heroin, more than other illicit drugs, causes the greatest physical and psychological damage, is highly addictive so the addiction spreads faster than with other drugs, is one of the most crucial factors for spreading HIV and AIDS, and claiming dozens of lives every day. The number of heroin addicts in this part of Europe has been steadily growing since the 1980s, and the death toll is on the rise: with addicts sharing needles, over 300.000 heroin users have been diagnosed with HIV or AIDS. There is no clear profile of a heroin addict in Italy – from doctors, to factory workers, to students and housewives. Apparently, poverty is not a key factor for spreading the drug abuse, since drug dealers have settled in the more prosperous urban centers following the money trail.
The heroin used in Italy comes mainly from Syria and Turkey, and only a small part comes from India. Italy became a major hotspot for heroin trafficking when a decade and a half ago it was turned into a shipment point for Europe and the United States. The Italian mafia eagerly turned towards the very lucrative heroin business.
Analyzing heroin drug abuse in Europe, a surprising fact comes from the north, Estonia particularly. Proclaimed as ‘Europe’s healthiest economy’, with more than 8% of economic growth in 2011, Estonia also has the highest number of heroin fatalities per capita in the whole of Europe. Heroin and fentanyl are the drugs of choice here, and the number of users is not expected to downsize. Fentanyl became popular in 2002, during a major heroin draught and gained wide popularity, being easy to smuggle and 100 times stronger than the lower quality heroin that was sold in the streets. Experts are united in the claim that the primary reason for the wide-spread heroin use in Estonia may be its breakneck economic growth. The 1990s were a time of great change for the country, which had a great economic, political and social transition after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Many young people who could not keep up with the demands of the new socials system had turned to heroin. The average user is a Russian male of age between 16 and 24. The death toll is also highest among the young ones: for women 28 years on average, and 31 for men.
The European Union, particularly the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction, has proposed a series of measures to limit the use of drugs, but the main problem is that most users are very much aware of the dangers and are willingly continuing to ‘feed’ their addiction. Actions are much needed given the fact that the rise of drug abuse acts as a trigger for many other social pathologies: domestic violence, burglaries, even murders. Furthermore, drug abuse is mostly a consequence of existing problems and frustrations, and most rehab programs do not have the means or the funding to provide a more holistic help for their patients. Drug trafficking and drug abusing cannot be resolved only though police action and rehab centers, mainly because they are a symptom of a problem in society itself, which takes a more reflexive approach into dealing with these issues. The reasons for such tragic pathologies must be detected, understood and accepted, in order to be able to start a process of greater social transformation, which would remove the anathema from the addicts, and provide them with the opportunity and the means to reintegrate in the society, and start a path of personal fulfillment.