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Pike, Brigid (2012) EU drugs policy – what next? Drugnet Ireland, Issue 43, Autumn 2012, p. 6.

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In the past few months the European Commission (EC)1 and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) 2 have published reports intended to inform the development of the next EU drugs strategy, which the European Council is due to adopt by the end of 2012.3 Although drug policy lies within the competence of individual member states,4 the EU drugs strategy can play an important  role by supporting and providing guidance to member states. 

The independent assessment commissioned by the EC concludes that there has been ‘little change in the demand for and availability of drugs in the EU’ over the lifetime of the current EU drugs strategy, and drug-induced deaths have remained at ‘historically high levels’. The authors state that they cannot conclude that any improvements in the EU drugs situation have been ‘unequivocally’ due to the implementation of the strategy. Comparing trends in 2011 with trends that were emerging in 2004, when the current strategy was being developed, the EMCDDA also  suggests little has changed: ‘… many of the problems and solutions seen as pertinent in 2011 have their roots in 2004 or earlier’ (p. 11). (A summary of the EMCDDA trend report 2011 is provided in a separate table in this issue of Drugnet Ireland.)
The authors of the independent assessment commissioned by the EC conclude, however, that the EU drugs strategy has had a ‘discernible impact on the process of drugs policy formulation and adoption in individual member states’, with the content and structure of national policy documents converging with the EU strategy, and the process of evaluating, revising and updating national drugs policy documents becoming a more firmly embedded and common practice. The authors also argue that a drugs strategy at EU level can add ‘considerable value’ at national level because it supports and strengthens international co-ordination and co-operation between member states, and because the mutual learning and exchange of best practice eliminates the need to reinvent the wheel. In short, the strategy has:
… provided a forum and a decisionmaking process for consensus building, developed a shared language and understanding and provided a platform for information sharing and mutual learning. (p. 96)
In May 2012 the European Council issued its preliminary conclusions with regard to these two reports and the shape of the next strategy.5
Policy framework
Although the independent assessment called for a shorter-term strategy with a reduced number of priorities and an integrated action plan, the Council has expressed a preference  for the same format as before:
-   an eight-year strategy (2013–2020);
-   the same five thematic areas – coordination, demand reduction, supply reduction, international cooperation, and research, evaluation and information;
-   implementation organised through two consecutive four-year action plans; and
-   ‘an integrated, multidisciplinary and balanced approach’.
The Council proposes that each Presidency will prepare an overview of progress against the action plan, in other words, a six-monthly progress report, and an evaluation will be undertaken at the expiry of each action plan and of the strategy.
Challenges and threats
The European Council lists the ‘challenges’ and ‘threats’ that should be prioritised in the new strategy as follows:
-   polydrug use, including the combination of illicit drugs and alcohol,
-   the rapid spread of new psychoactive substances,
-   ensuring access to and addressing the misuse of prescribed controlled medications,
-   the dynamics in the drug markets, including the use of the internet as a facilitator for the distribution of illicit drugs,
-   the diversion of precursors used in the illicit manufacture of drugs,
-   the quality of demand reduction services, and
-   the high incidence of blood-borne diseases, especially HCV, among injecting drug users and potential risks of outbreaks of HIV epidemics and other blood-borne infections related to injecting drugs use.
Despite a recommendation in the independent assessment that an integrated policy approach across illicit and licit substances (including ‘legal highs’, alcohol and cigarettes) be developed, the Council did not include this in its list of challenges to be addressed in the next seven years.
Supply reduction
Activities under this pillar will remain focused on co-operation between law enforcement authorities, including exchange of information and joint operations and investigations, and on co-ordination of law enforcement initiatives. The Council sees a need to expand and improve the knowledge base around supply reduction and to develop accurate indicators of progress.
Demand reduction
As in the previous strategy, the demand reduction pillar will cover the whole gamut of demand reduction interventions, including special initiatives in prison settings and steps to improve quality standards. The Council acknowledges that there has been some success in promoting an evidence-based approach. However, it sees a need for greater uniformity across all member states in implementing harm reduction and treatment measures. Moreover, member states need to meet the persistent challenges with regard to implementation and co-ordination of national strategies, particularly in an economic downturn.
In a separate article in this issue of Drugnet Ireland, alternative approaches to developing EU-level drug policy are outlined.
1. Culley DM, Skoupy J, Rubin J, Hoorens S, Disley E and Rabinovich L (2012) Assessment of the implementation of the EU drugs strategy 2005–2012 and its action plans. Technical Report prepared for European Commission Directorate General for Justice. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17312
2. EMCDDA (2011) EMCDDA trend report for the evaluation of the 2005–2012 EU drugs strategy. Lisbon: EMCDDA. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17382
3.Seeaccount of process in Pike B (2012)  EU drug policies under review in 2012. Drugnet Ireland, (41): 8. Available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17269
4. This is known as the principle of ‘subsidiarity’.
5.Council of the European Union (25 May 2012) Draft Council conclusions on the new EU drugs strategy. 10231/12 CORDROGUE 37 SAN 121 ENFOPOL 145 RELEX 455. http://register.consilium.europa.eu/pdf/en/12/st10/st10231.en12.pdf


Item Type
Publication Type
International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
October 2012
Page Range
p. 6
Health Research Board
Issue 43, Autumn 2012
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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