Nearly 40% of Italian teens take drugs, government report finds

ROME (Reuters) - Almost 960,000 Italians aged between 15 and 19, or 39% of them, have consumed illegal substances at least once, an annual government report to parliament showed on Tuesday, as drug abuse headed back towards pre-pandemic levels.

Italy - home to powerful mafia groups that raise billions through drug trafficking - saw some 54,000 young people use cocaine in 2023, while around 550,000 said they had used cannabis-related products at least once.

Alfredo Mantovano, a government undersecretary in the right-wing administration of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, told a news conference illegal substances were spreading like "a pandemic" in Italy and there was little awareness of the danger.

The government said drugs worth some 16.4 billion euros ($17.59 billion) were bought in Italy in 2022, mostly cocaine and cannabis derivatives, up from 15.5 billion in 2021 and close to levels before the COVID-19 pandemic reduced consumption.

The government cited a need to raise awareness over the use of fentanyl, a deadly drug that is not yet widespread in the country but has become the leading cause of overdoses in the United States.

"Fentanyl is unfortunately also entering Italy," Justice Minister Carlo Nordio told reporters.

Police action against drugs has also increased in Italy. Authorities seized nearly 89 tonnes of illegal substances in 2023, up by 17% compared to the year before, and some 27,700 people were reported on drug related offences, the government said.

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(Reporting by Angelo Amante, editing by Gavin Jones and Barbara Lewis)