The UK has become the drug and alcohol “addictions capital of Europe”, a think tank has warned.
According to the BBC, the Centre for Social Justice – set up by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – said drink and drug abuse cost the UK £36bn a year.
Its report warned that the UK has become a hub for websites peddling potentially dangerous “legal highs”.
The CSJ also criticised the government for failing to tackle heroin addiction and cheaply available alcohol.
The report, No Quick Fix, found that last year 52 people in England and Wales died after taking legal highs, up from 28 the previous year.
The substances, sometimes referred to as club drugs and including Salvia and Green Rolex, are often marketed as bath salts or research chemicals.
But the drugs can be sold legally as long as they are clearly marked “not for human consumption”, but have been known to cause permanent bladder damage, blood poisoning and death.
According to the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), there are now more than 130 UK-registered websites selling the products cheaply by mail order – making postal service workers unwitting drug mules.
The think tank said one in 12 young people in the UK admitted to having taken legal highs – the highest figure in Europe.
It said a faster system of prohibition was needed to deal with legal highs, as 150 new substances have come on to the market in the last three years, while the government has managed to ban just 15 in the same period.
The report also attacked a failure to offer heroin addicts effective treatment.
A Freedom of Information inquiry found that 55% of councils in England have had funding for residential treatment cut since the coalition came to power, despite Prime Minister David Cameron pushing for more residential programmes.