According to INCB the highest level of zolpidem consumption worldwide in 2022 was in Uruguay, followed by Portugal, but overall, among the 64 countries and territories that provided data, the average zolpidem consumption in Europe “was significantly higher” than in other regions.

Like diazepam and phenobarbital, zolpidem is one of the most commercialised psychotropic substances under international control, highlights the organisation, adding that its production increased from 38.2 tons in 2021 to 39.1 tons in 2022.

For the first time, this report contains data on ketamine consumption, which in 2022 increased across Europe, with the highest occurrences observed in cities in Portugal, Spain, Italy and Denmark.

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have noted an increase in the non-medical use of ketamine across Europe in 2022, which the INCB says raises concerns about potentially serious health implications.

Belgium, France, Italy and Spain recorded an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for substance use, highlighting the INCB's need for rigorous monitoring of use and impact on public health.

The report states that, from December 2022 to January 2023, several European countries, including Portugal, participated in an INCB operation to combat the illicit production and distribution of various substances, including ketamine, which was being trafficked through postal and courier services.

The EMCDDA's annual wastewater report included data from 104 cities that revealed that cocaine use remains high in cities located in western and southern Europe, in particular Portugal, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

The highest occurrences of MDMA (popularly known as ecstasy) were also found in Portugal, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, according to the document.

The INCB notes the "rapid emergence" on the market of a wider range of substances and an increasingly complex pattern of drug use, warning that limited knowledge about the health risks of new synthetic drugs poses "significant challenges" to providing treatment and services designed to reduce the negative health effects and social consequences of the use of such drugs.

“Greater support must be provided to law enforcement authorities and health authorities in monitoring the situation and educating consumers about the health risks of polydrug use”, he warns.

The organisation also criticises, in the document, the various European countries that continued to establish regulated cannabis markets for non-medical purposes: “These programmes do not appear to be consistent with drug control conventions”, they warn.