By Andrei Khalip
LISBON, May 8 (Reuters) - European drug experts warned on Friday that economic hardship stemming from the global crisis may boost drug use, just as spending cuts threaten to hamper anti-narcotics efforts.
"We have to make sure that (anti-drug) services are safeguarded as much as possible ... All drug coordinators have to be extremely vigilant and prepared to react to a crisis that may come," Wolfgang Gotz, director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) told reporters.
Agency officials said at the end of a three-day EMCDDA conference in Lisbon the crisis had not yet lasted long enough to give them a clear idea on any changes in drug use trends, but previous experience showed the problem was likely to get worse.
"We can’t predict what will happen but historical examples show that in times of economic hardships drug problems tend to become worse, driven by social problems," said Paul Griffiths, the agency’s head of epidemiology, crime and markets unit.
Gotz said budget cuts in the social and health area in many EU member states and hefty civil servants’ pay cuts in newer European Union members such as Latvia was alarming as it raised doubts over the financing of drug programmes.
Other problems discussed at the conference were new substances, often sold legally in shops or on the Internet, potent Europe-grown cannabis replacing imported resin and cocaine entry via new routes, including Asia.