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[European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction & Health Research Board] Latest drug trends across Europe. (06 Nov 2008)

Heroin use is stable, but no longer in decline, and cocaine use is continuing to rise according to the latest report on the state of the drugs problem across Europe published today by the European Monitoring Committee on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). The Health Research Board (HRB) provides the Irish figures for the EMCDDA report and this briefing note compares the situation here in Ireland with Europe.

The European report highlights the need for vigilance in response to changes in the opiate problem. It records that there are between 1.3 and 1.7 million problem opiate (mainly heroin) users throughout the EU and Norway and points out that heroin accounts for Europe’s largest drug-related health and social costs.

According to Dr Jean Long, Head of the Alcohol and Drug Research Unit at the HRB; ‘It is essential that we remain focused on developing relevant strategies at a local level to tackle both heroin and cocaine use, and from an Irish perspective that we continue to address polydrug use which is increasingly evident at our treatment services.The key areas of focus in the European report are highlighted within an Irish context on the following pages. These are:

  • A growing concern over the opiate problem
  • The continued rise in cocaine use
  • The stabilisation of amphetamine and ecstasy use
  • Addressing drug use among vulnerable young people

A growing concern over the opiate problem
In Europe

  • There are between 1.3 and 1.7 million problem opiate users in the EU and Norway.
  • Opiate use accounts for an average of 60% of those entering treatment for drugs.
  • More than half of EU countries report an increase in new opiate cases entering treatment since 2005.
  • Around 80 % of fatal overdoses across Europe are associated with opiate use.
  • Heroin seizures increased on average by 10% across Europe.

Ireland - a comparison

  • Ireland represents 1% of problem opiate users in Europe. The latest Irish figures indicate that there are between 13,405 and 15,819 problem opiate users in Ireland.
  • Opiates account for 67% of people presenting for treatment for drug problems in Ireland.
  • Ireland also found an increase in the number of new cases of opiates entering treatment since 2005, with a total of 1,032 new cases in 2007.
  • In Ireland 88% of fatal overdoses were associated with opiate use.
  • In Ireland there is a higher than average increase of heroin seizures, with 763 in 2005 compared to 1,254 in 2006.

‘It is recognised across Europe that injecting heroin is a major factor in spreading drug-related infections. According to today’s report, 3,000 new cases of drug-related HIV occur every year in Europe, and more than 40% of injectors are infected with hepatitis C,’ says Dr Long. ‘In Ireland, the 2007 figures show that there were 54 newly diagnosed cases of HIV as a result of injecting drugs. In view of the latest figures available on blood-borne viruses, Ireland is among the low prevalence countries for HIV and high prevalence countries for hepatitis C’.

The continued rise in cocaine use
In Europe

  • Cocaine use is on the rise with 3.5 million young Europeans using it in the past year.
  • Treatment demand continued to increase in Europe, from 13,000 cases in 2002 to 30,000 cases in 2006.
  • 500 deaths associated with cocaine use were registered with the EMCDDA in 2006. This represents 12% of all drug-induced deaths.

Ireland – a comparison

  • In Ireland, the proportion of young adults (15-34 years) in the general population who reported using cocaine in the last year was 3%.
  • Treatment demand also increased in Ireland, from 81 cases in 2001 to 770 cases in 2007, reporting cocaine as the main problem drug.
  • Latest drug-related death figures show 34 deaths as a result of poisoning from cocaine, alone or with another drug, in 2005 - representing 21% of drug-induced deaths.
  • As experienced in many EU countries, the number of cocaine seizures in Ireland has increased with time, from 515 in 2003 to 1,500 in 2006.

‘Many countries across Europe report an increase in cocaine use. The proportion of young adults reported using cocaine in the last year was at 3% in Ireland; this contrasts with a European range of 0.2% - 5.4%, says Dr Long. ‘This places Ireland among the high prevalence countries such as the UK, Spain and Italy’.

Ireland’s increasing cocaine problem is the result of a number of factors including, availability, price, affluence, a young population and geography – we are in the group of countries most affected by the supply chain’.

The stabilisation of amphetamine and ecstasy use
In Europe

  • In Europe the use of amphetamines and ecstasy are stable and, in some cases, in decline.
  • Ecstasy use across Europe has remained steady with 1.8% of young adults using the drug in the past year

Ireland – a comparison

  • Amphetamine use in Ireland is uncommon and the proportion of adults who reported using Amphetamines in the last year remained stable at 0.4%, when compared with the previous survey in 2002/2003.
  • In Ireland, ecstasy use remained stable with 2.4% of young adults reporting use of the drug in the past year compared to 2.3% in 2002/2003.

According to Dr Long; ‘It is clear from treatment figures that ecstasy is declining in popularity. The number reporting ecstasy as their main problem drug has decreased considerably from 219 in 2001 to 129 in 2007. The number of ecstasy seizures has also decreased with time, from 1,083 in 2003 to 858 in 2006. This reflects trends in many EU countries’.


Selected issue – Addressing drug use among vulnerable young people

Throughout Europe, increasing priority is placed on vulnerable groups to target drug use problems where they are most likely to occur. A growing knowledge about the profiles of these groups and where they are to be found can be an entry point for drug prevention strategies and interventions. Vulnerable groups include those in Government care, early school leavers, homeless youths, those living in marginalised urban communities.

‘Throughout Europe there is often a visible gap between policy objectives and practice. In Ireland, a wide variety of strategies aim to address vulnerable young people through education, leisure and sport. Ireland has some concrete examples in response to the needs of vulnerable young people,’ she explains. Key responses include: -

  • The primary prevention of drug use which is delivered through the Walk Tall and SPHE school programmes.
  • The Young People’s Facilities and Services Fund (YPFSF) is the primary means of responding to youths at risk from drug misuse. The Fund operates in disadvantaged communities.
  • Arrest referral schemes provide information about appropriate services and facilitate referral to treatment. These schemes are targeted at young drug-using offenders. They are based on the idea that treatment will lead to a reduction in drug use and drug-related crime.

A copy of the full report, European Monitoring Committee on Drugs and Drug Addiction Annual Report 2008, and all related media material from Europe, is available online.

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