Newsbrief: East Europe Teens Catching Up to West in Drug Use 8/16/02

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Drug use by teenagers in the former East Bloc doubled in the years between 1995 and 1999, bringing Eastern European teen usage rates nearly in line with those of Western Europe, according to the United Nations' annual survey of global drug trends (http://www.undcp.org/global_illicit_drug_trends.html). In five countries (Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia), the number of teens trying an illegal drug at least once doubled, and in Lithuania the number increased five-fold.

Thirty-four percent of Czech 16-year-olds had tried marijuana, the survey found, a figure comparable to rates in high consuming western countries such as England and the Netherlands. And the Czech figures highlight a point salient throughout the region: although drug use has doubled, most of it is marijuana use. "It is true that the figure has almost doubled," UN researcher Sandeep Chawla told Radio Free Europe, "but as regards the use of highly dangerous drugs, that figure has not gone up nearly as much."

Neither do the figures indicate a looming crisis, said Chawla. "More young people are certainly taking drugs," he conceded, "but it does not mean that you can conclude from this that it is problematic drug use."

The UN researcher implicitly blamed the lack of a strong totalitarian police state for the trend. He cited the opening of borders since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc and "the openness of the economies and the systems. Obviously, if there's more free trade in goods, then there are more possibilities for drugs to get through across the borders."

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