Young people in Ireland are the most-likely to have tried so-called 'legal high' drugs in the entire European Union (EU). Figures published by the official EU statistics body, Eurostat, show 16% of young Irish people have tried drugs from head shops.
That is more than three-times the European average of 5%. The EU has published the data as it considers new Europe-wide laws to control the supply of psychoactive drugs.
Under the proposed rules, harmful psychoactive substances will be withdrawn quickly from the market. They follow warnings from the EU's Drugs Agency (the EMCDDA) and Europol about the scale of the problem and a 2011 report which found that the current EU mechanism for tackling new psychoactive substances needed bolstering.
The proposal was presented by the EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. "Legal highs are a growing problem in Europe and it is young people who are most at risk. With a borderless internal market, we need common EU rules to tackle this problem" she said.
"Today we are proposing strong EU legislation on new psychoactive substances so that the EU can provide a faster and more effective response, including the ability to immediately remove harmful substances from the market on a temporary basis".
The EU says number of new psychoactive substances detected in the EU has tripled between 2009 and 2012. So far in 2013, more than one new substance has been reported every week.
It adds that these are increasingly available over the internet and rapidly spread between EU countries, with 80% of new substances detected in more than one country.
The 2011 Eurobarometer on "Youth attitudes on drugs" shows that on average 5% of young people in the EU have used such substances at least once in their life, with a peak of 16% here in Ireland, and close to 10% in Poland, Latvia and the UK.