Home > Monitoring new trends in drug use.

Sinclair, Hamish (2005) Monitoring new trends in drug use. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 14, Summer 2005, p. 18.

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Increasingly, policy makers, service planners, practitioners and others working in the drugs area have need of information systems that are sensitive enough to detect and track changes in drug use at a very early stage in their development. One potential source of data on emerging drug trends is drug helplines.

Since the beginning of 2001 the European Foundation of Drug Helplines (FESAT) has been collecting information every six months on the type of persons contacting FESAT helplines, the content of these calls and how this has changed compared to the previous six months. The main objective of this FESAT monitoring project is to identify new drugs and new drug trends as early as possible.

In March 2005 FESAT published the results of their eighth data collection, covering the first six months of 2004.1 A total of 26 FESAT helplines in 16 European countries, including Ireland, participated in the eighth monitoring project. This article will describe some of the main changes that were reported by the helplines during the first half of 2004.

Information for the eighth monitoring project was collected from FESAT helplines using a standard questionnaire distributed in November 2004. Out of a total of 41 relevant helplines, 26 (63% response rate) returned completed questionnaires. These helplines were based in the following countries: Austria (3 helplines), Belgium (2), Cyprus (1), Czech Republic (1), Finland (2), Germany (2), Greece (3), Ireland (1), Italy (2), Latvia (1), Luxembourg (1), the Netherlands (2), Portugal (1), Russia (1), Spain (2) and the United Kingdom (1). The participating Irish helpline was the Drugs/HIV Helpline, based in Dublin.

The average number of telephone calls per day to these helplines varied widely, from less than one to 166 calls per day. The median was 15 daily calls. The Irish Drugs/HIV Helpline handled an average of 16 calls per day in the first half of 2004, up from 14 per day in the last half of 2003. The category of drug users for which the largest number of helplines reported an increased number of contacts compared to the situation six months ago was that of drug-using women aged 20–25 years. This was reported by nearly a third of the helplines (8 out of 26). In terms of the content of the calls, 10 helplines indicated an increased number of calls about cocaine. Three of these described this as a ‘large increase’ compared to the situation six months ago. An increase in the number of contacts about alcohol was also reported by 11 helplines. Interestingly, there was a decrease in the number of contacts about injecting heroin and ecstasy reported by six helplines each. Three helplines reported calls about new drugs (i.e. drugs not previously reported by the helpline). These were ‘Absint’ in Belgium, ‘Oxanest’ in Finland, and ‘Ayahuasca’ in Portugal.

In summarising the findings, the FESAT report notes that an increased number of calls about a specific drug, that is not a part of a more general trend, cannot automatically be seen as an indicator of increased consumption. It might also indicate an increased curiosity or an increased concern among professionals, parents or partners. The report also acknowledges that it is not possible to get a clear picture about changes in the use of different drugs via data from drug helplines only. Hence, it is important to see the FESAT monitoring system as a complement to other kinds of data collected nationally or internationally.

According to the recently published Drugs/HIV Helpline Report, the drugs about which most calls were made to the helpline in 2004 were cannabis (740 calls), cocaine (427 calls) and heroin (417 calls).2 This was the first year that there were more calls about cocaine than heroin. Calls related to cocaine and its use with alcohol increased in 2004 compared with previous years. Of the 427 calls related to cocaine, 100 (23%) concerned its combination with alcohol. In 2003, 347 calls related to cocaine were received, 38 (11%) of which were identified as being in combination with alcohol. 

1. Hibell B (2005) FESAT Monitoring Project ­– Changes during the first half of 2004. FESAT (The European Foundation of Drug Helplines).

2. Drugs/HIV Helpline (2005). Drugs/HIV Helpline Report. Dublin: Drugs/HIV Helpline.


The Drugs/HIV Helpline in Ireland is a confidential, freephone, active listening service offering non-directive support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question related to substance use or HIV and sexual health. Set up in July 1997, the service is funded and managed by the Health Service Executive South Western Area on behalf of the HSE South Western, East Coast and Northern Areas. The freephone number is 1800 459 459. The Helpline manager is Aileen Dooley. Ms Dooley’s assistance in writing this article is gratefully acknowledged. 


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 14, Summer 2005
April 2005
Page Range
p. 18
Health Research Board
Issue 14, Summer 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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