LISBON, PORTUGAL —
Ecstasy is becoming popular again in the European Union, with online sales and targeted marketing helping to drive the revival among a new generation of users, the EU drug agency said Tuesday.
MDMA, also known as ecstasy, has returned as "a common stimulant of choice for young people,'' the agency said in its annual report on drug trends in the 28-nation bloc.
Ecstasy first established itself in the illegal drug market in the 1990s, but its use declined at the end of the last decade amid poor drug quality and adulteration.
Innovative ways of obtaining chemical compounds used to make the drug, new production methods and marketing techniques that offer varying strengths, colors and shapes of tablets are fueling the business, the agency said.
Authorities believe most ecstasy in the EU is produced in or around the Netherlands, the Lisbon, Portugal-based agency said.
Despite ecstasy's return its use is still dwarfed by the popularity of cannabis. That remains the EU's biggest-selling drug in money terms with an estimated annual retail value of 9.3 billion euros ($10.3 billion), around 38 percent of the total illegal drug market, in 2013, the last year for which full figures are available.
Heroin sales are estimated to be the second-highest, at 6.8 billion euros, followed by cocaine at 5.7 billion euros. Sales of MDMA are believed to total almost 700 million euros.
Cannabis offenses, mostly involving use or possession for personal use, account for close to three-fourths of all drug-related offenses in the EU.
Cocaine use appears to be higher in western and southern EU countries, while amphetamines are more prominent in northern and eastern EU, according to the report.
The agency said online drug sales appear to be growing, representing an "important new challenge for drug policy.''