EU health NGOs have ignored the emerging European drug crisis. This is a classic case of activists favouring meaningless campaigns to further their anti-capitalist political agenda rather than focusing on real risks. The European Commission should stop funding groups that put their ideology over improving public health.
It is a frustrating struggle for risk managers to separate publicly perceived fears from real risks and direct policymakers’ attention toward harmful issues that actually do require regulations. Too often NGOs and interest groups, committed to their funders’ ideologies, impose their headline issues on the policy agenda forcing governments to respond with meaningless legislation while human health risks with more serious consequences get no attention.
Today activists with an anti-capitalist agenda are more concerned with stopping agricultural technologies, vaping, meat consumption, plastics and chemical food additives than to focus on the risks from rising levels of drug abuse in the EU. Why is that?
Last year a stunning report came out of a little-known European agency – The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) – entitled: European Drug Report 2022: Trends and Developments. It sounds like another boring EU report until you read the introduction that states, starkly, that drug use and abuse across most of the EU, Turkey and Norway is rising ‘Everywhere, Everything, Everyone’. In other words, illicit drug use in the European Union is going up everywhere, for every type of drug, and for every user category. The report begs for urgent action given the consequences:
Today, we face a situation where we can observe the impact of drug problems almost everywhere. Within the European Union, drug problems complicate other important issues such as homelessness, the management of psychiatric disorders and reducing youth criminality. We are also observing greater levels of violence and corruption driven by the drug market in some countries.
Too bad few people in Brussels read this report and fewer are prepared to act on it. The Commission is too busy trying to push through their Green Deal agenda and castrate modern agriculture to consider such a ‘minor’ issue killing thousands of Europeans.
This report is also interesting for what should be part of our post-COVID analysis (remember the pandemic?). During that time, I was screaming out that the precautionary lockdowns were having serious social consequences (domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues…). The EMCDDA report is the first assessment to confirm the obvious.
The European Drug Report 2022: Trends and Developments makes for some dark reading, including information like:
- Methamphetamine production in the EU is being scaled up. Mexican crime groups have started to get involved in synthetic drug production within the EU borders.
- THC levels in cannabis resin are now twice as high as in herbal cannabis – reversing the trend from recent years.
- Criminal groups are now adulterating cheaper hemp products with synthetic cannabinoids that mimic the effect of THC but can be much more potent. Severe and fatal poisonings have been reported.
- The number of overdose deaths in the 50-64 age group increased by 82% between 2012 and 2020. This could be connected to the aging of the drug using population and the increase of opioid use in chronic pain treatment.
- The number of people entering EU drug treatment facilities for crack cocaine abuse has tripled since 2016.
- Changes in drug flow from countries like Afghanistan, events like the war in Ukraine and the easier means of online distribution post-pandemic have made managing the drug situation in Europe more complex. Couple this with the higher availability and greater diversity of drug use in the EU and we can see a crisis in the making.
- Post-COVID, new digital means to distribute drugs has complicated the control and monitoring process.
- Newer psychoactives and stimulants entering the market at a faster rate have a higher risk of being mislabelled with users unaware of the side-effects or consequences.
Sanctimony or Hypocrisy?
Any health NGOs receiving EU funding should be standing up demanding action to save lives, protect public health and reduce suffering. But unfortunately these EU-funded NGOs are doing just the opposite. Identifying social justice issues of certain populations as more of a priority than stopping the illegal drug trade, most European NGOs are advocating the legalisation of recreational drugs like cannabis.
A basic question: Which EU NGOs are taking up the fight against illicit drug use? After filtering out of the temperance movements, I could only find ECAD (European Cities Against Drugs) which claims to be “Europe’s leading organization promoting a drug-free Europe” – but this NGO (with one staff member in Sweden and one in Bulgaria) got its start from the UN. Neither of the key health activist groups claiming to protect the health of EU citizens, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) nor the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA), both heavily funded by the European taxpayer, are interested at all in the health consequences of drug abuse (although their obsession with banning glyphosate and pushing Farm2Fork through unamended is curious).
So basically there are no NGOs in Brussels willing or interested in raising the alarm bells or fighting for legislation to stem the human carnage of drug abuse. As NGO activists are the main lobbying force setting the agenda in Brussels, they are to blame for the lack of urgent regulatory response to a serious health crisis. Furthermore, we can expect no scrutiny on how recreational drugs will now be legalised in different European countries (an EU issue given the free cross-border movement of goods). While I advocate decriminalising the use of personal stimulants, I don’t think a regulatory free-for-all (based on some social justice ideology) is a good public health strategy. In Canada, stories are widespread of children consuming THC gummy bears (see cover image).
Compare that to another drug, nicotine, and we can begin to see the hypocrisy of activist groups like HEAL and EPHA who are investing heavily in anti-vaping campaigns but remain mute about the drug crisis affecting so many EU citizens. Vaping (e-cigarettes) is a harm-reduction means for smokers to reduce exposure to the hazardous elements of smoking. It seems like a no-brainer for regulators to promote vaping to reduce the harm of tobacco products.
Well, … No!
A recent European Parliamentary hearing to gear up for the upcoming EU tobacco (oops, they now call it “nicotine”) products regulation had a symphony of NGOs and activist scientists condemning vaping, not on health or scientific grounds but on the involvement of industry in promoting their products. So even though vaping delivers harm reduction, e-cigarettes will likely be restricted in the EU because of health NGO hatred of corporations and capitalism. Meanwhile these activists ignore the dramatically increasing number of victims from a much more serious drug abuse costing so many European lives (like the adulterating of cannabis with synthetic cannabinoids).
Why is that?
- Risk perception depends on the harms and benefits people are willing to recognise. To be blunt, those with power and influence enjoy getting high, so their policy leanings would be to deregulate their drug of choice.
- Lobbying pressure moves the policy agenda. In Brussels, NGO activists setting the regulatory discourse are driven by their hatred of industry rather than their commitment to protect public health.
- Tougher regulations and enforcement of the drug trade will disproportionately affect the poor, urban, often migrant populations. Given the political pressures against acting on disaffected populations and consequences when they are isolated, leaders find inaction to be more opportune.
If a health crisis falls upon Brussels, and nobody hears it, does it make a policy impact? If industry is not involved, EU health activists are tone deaf and as most European policymakers only react when an issue is relentlessly shoved in their faces, the answer is: No.
When the drug crisis in Europe reaches epic proportions similar to that seen in the US, will our leaders and activists take responsibility for not acting? Hell no! They’ll be as shocked to learn about this crisis as the rest of us. I suppose, though, if Philip Morris does indeed decide to move into the cannabis supply chain, perhaps the EU will be forced to act following a wave a of campaigns run by “suddenly outraged” bands of activist health militants.
Hitting Close to Home
One of the interesting findings in the European Drug Report 2022 was the increase in drug abuse among the +50 population. For some that seems odd but I can understand that from personal experience. Turning 60 this year, the Risk-Monger has been battling intensifying levels of chronic pain from a rather aggressive, hereditary osteo-arthritis (affecting my shoulders and hips). Some inflammation flares over the last five years have been so severe (causing me to be unable to sit, stand, lie down or move) that I have resorted several times to opioids to get through the dark periods. While I’d like to think that my years as an ultra-runner have given me a higher pain threshold to endure the drug withdrawal period, I am aware how the disease will continue to degrade my quality of life and I will need stronger and more frequent painkillers.
I often look with disgust at those who are pain-free pontificating against solutions provided by the pharmaceutical industry. The US tort lawyer feeding frenzy has left little to invest in pain management innovations. As NGOs celebrate the destruction of an industry, millions continue to suffer.
The Belgian health-care system controls my access to opioids (which is good) but the absence of regulations to control the off-market access to stronger drugs will create a situation in Europe much like the fentanyl crisis in the US. Rather than blaming the pharmaceutical industry or the Chinese, we need to blame our regulators and the hypocritical NGOs that have blinders on such real risks (choosing instead to run campaigns based on their political ideology). With an aging population, this crisis is just beginning.
I suggest that the European Commission stop the 80% funding of their umbrella health NGOs, namely HEAL and EPHA, until they direct their attentions to real health risks rather than pandering to the fear-mongering interest groups that do not contribute to improving European public health. These groups are advancing a narrow political agenda with little attention toward improving the health situations for hundreds of millions of vulnerable EU citizens. As the activist noise gets louder around the upcoming nicotine products regulations with the NGO demand to ban vaping, I can only sit back and appreciate that my physical pain is far worse than the mental pain caused by the campaign antics of such stupid people.
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Took the freedom to translate this post into German
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Many thanks Hubert – I put the link to your site up.
Upon extensively reading that serious life trauma, notably adverse childhood experiences, is very often behind the addict’s debilitating addiction, I began to understand ball-and-chain self-medicating:
The greater the drug-induced euphoria/escape one attains from its use, the more one wants to repeat the experience; and the more intolerable one finds their sober reality, the more pleasurable that escape should be perceived. By extension, the greater one’s mental pain or trauma while sober, the greater the need for escape from reality, thus the more addictive the euphoric escape-form will likely be.
Lasting PTSD mental pain is very formidable yet invisibly confined to inside one’s head. It is solitarily suffered, unlike an openly visible physical disability or condition, which tends to elicit sympathy/empathy from others. It can make every day a mental ordeal, unless the turmoil is prescription and/or illicitly medicated.
Fortunately, the preconceived erroneous notion that drug addicts are simply weak-willed and/or have committed a moral crime is gradually diminishing. Also, we know that pharmaceutical corporations intentionally pushed their very addictive and profitable opiates — I call it by far the real moral crime — for which they got off relatively lightly, considering the resulting immense suffering and overdose death numbers.
Typically societally overlooked is that intense addiction usually doesn’t originate from a bout of boredom, where a person repeatedly consumed recreationally but became heavily hooked — and homeless, soon after — on an unregulated often-deadly chemical that eventually destroyed their life and even those of loved-ones.
Either way, neglecting people dealing with debilitating drug addiction should never have been an acceptable or preferable political option. But the more callous politics that are typically involved with lacking addiction funding/services tend to reflect conservative electorate opposition, however irrational, against making proper treatment available to low- and no-income addicts.
It’s like some people, however precious, are considered disposable.
Even to an otherwise relatively civilized nation, their worth(lessness) is measured basically by their sober ‘productivity’ or lack thereof. Those people may then begin perceiving themselves as worthless and accordingly live their daily lives and consume their substances more haphazardly.
Sadly, many of the chronically addicted don’t really care if they overdose and never wake up. It’s not that they necessarily want to die; it’s that they want their pointless corporeal hell to cease and desist.
Meanwhile, I’ve suffered enough unrelenting ACE-related hyper-anxiety to have known, enjoyed and appreciated the great release upon consuming alcohol and/or THC. Yet, I once was one of those who, while sympathetic, would look down on those who’d ‘allowed’ themselves to become addicted to alcohol and/or illicit ‘hard’ drugs.
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Thank you for this. I hope I did not do an injustice to the struggles of those battling addiction – I acknowledged that is a spiral I am falling into. In order to serve the needs of those who are vulnerable, we first need our policymakers to recognise it is an important issue and then, an important step, stop saying it is someone else’s problem / fault. To do this, we need groups sticking this relentlessly onto the policy table. Instead we have stigma and health NGOs concentrating on other, political issues.
To add a further personal point – for me the problem with Oxycontin is that, as I slowly reduce the dose, I can begin to feel the pain returning. It is not an old friend and I don’t want to welcome it back into my house. At the moment I can battle this urge to up my dose but with age it is getting harder.
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And, sadly, due to the common OIIIMOBY mindset (Only If It’s In My Own Back Yard), the prevailing collective attitude, however implicit or subconscious, basically follows: ‘Why should I care — my kids are alright?’ or ‘What is in it for me, the taxpayer, if I support programs for other people’s troubled children?’