Home > Annual review of the drug situation in Europe.

Galvin, Brian (2013) Annual review of the drug situation in Europe. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 46, Summer 2013, pp. 5-6.

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published their European drug report 2013: trends and developments on 28th May.1 This year the centre’s annual overview of the European drug situation is presented in a new information package designed to be ‘more timely, interactive and interlinked’, and which replaces the former annual report. The shorter, graphic-rich report summarises the latest trends across the 27 EU member states, and Norway, Croatia and Turkey. Accompanying the 2013 report is a series of online interactive Perspectives on drugs (PODs) providing deeper insights into important issues.
The EMCDDA reports that the numbers initiating heroin use are falling, there is less injecting and the use of cocaine and cannabis is declining in some countries. While these are positive developments, the emergence of new synthetic drugs and new patterns of use presents new challenges. Today’s drug market is less reliant on the long-distance movement of plant-based substances into Europe. Globalisation and new technologies have driven significant changes in the manufacturing, supply and distribution of drugs. 
Commenting on the report, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström says: ‘I am heartened by the fact that, thanks to robust drug policies and record levels of treatment, use of heroin, cocaine and cannabis appears to be waning in some countries and drug-related HIV continues to decline.’ Despite these advances, the fact that drug use in Europe remains high is a cause of continuing concern. Commissioner Malmström continues: ‘Emerging challenges add to my concerns – we are faced with an ever more complex stimulant market and a relentless supply of new drugs which are increasingly diverse. The fact that over 70 new drugs have been detected in the last year is proof in itself that drug policies need to stay on target.’
The EMCDDA estimates that at least 1.2 million Europeans received treatment for illicit drug use in 2011. Opioid users constitute the largest group undergoing treatment, followed by cannabis and cocaine users. Substitution treatment remains the ‘first choice’ for treating opioid dependence. Some 730,000 Europeans now receive substitution treatment for opioid dependence – up from 650,000 in 2008 – representing around half of the estimated 1.4 million problem opioid users in Europe today.  Although the number of heroin users entering treatment for the first time continues to fall, the long-term nature of opioid use means that many of those in treatment are likely to require services for many years to come.
  • Cannabis is still Europe’s most commonly consumed illicit drug. However, most countries report stable or downward trends among young people. Around 15.4 million adults aged 15–34 years (11.7% of this age group) used cannabis in the last year; 9.2 million of them were aged 15–24 years (14.9% of this age group). 
  • The use of cannabis by school students aged 15–16 years increased between 1995 and 2003, decreased slightly in 2007 and has remained stable since then. Around 1% of adults, over two-thirds of whom are aged 15–34,  use cannabis daily or almost daily.
  • Among all clients entering treatment, cannabis is the second most frequently reported main problem drug, after heroin.  Among new clients entering treatment for the first time, cannabis is now the most frequently reported main problem drug.
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the numbers of first-time clients increased from 45,000 to 60,000.
  • Herbal cannabis is becoming more common in Europe, with almost all countries reporting some domestic cultivation of cannabis plants. In 2011 herbal cannabis accounted for 41% of all drug seizures, and cannabis resin for 36%. 
Opiates (mainly heroin)
  • Around 197,000 (48%) clients who entered drug treatment in 2011 reported opioids, mainly heroin, as their primary problem drug.  
  • Eleven European countries reported that 11% or more of new opioid clients entering treatment were using opioids such as fentanyl, methadone and buprenorphine without a prescription
  • European data on opioid users entering treatment for the first time show a fall in numbers from a peak of 59,000 in 2007 to 41,000 in 2011.
  • Treatment data provides evidence of a long-term decline in opiod injecting. The proportion of first-time entrants to drug treatment who are opioid injectors fell from around 58% in 2001 to 38% in 2011.
  • The number of opiate-induced deaths increased from 2003 up to 2008, stabilised in 2009 and began a decline in 2010. The downward trend continued in 2011, when 6,500 overdose deaths were reported, compared to 7,000 cases in 2010 and 7,600 in 2009.
  • The EMCDDA warns that ‘a large burden of advanced liver disease can be expected over the next decade’ among injecting drug users (IDUs) infected with hepatitis C. Injecting drug use accounts for an average of 58% of all hepatitis C virus cases and 41% of the acute cases notified across the countries that provided data in this area. Three  of the countries with national trend data for 2006–2011 (Italy, Portugal and Norway) reported declining HCV prevalence, while Greece and Cyprus reported an increase during this period.  
  • There were 1,507 newly report cases of HIV/AIDS attributable to drug use in the EU in 2011, a slight increase on the 2010 figures. There are significant differences in prevalence between countries, with Greece and Romania between them accounting for 23% of the total. Other countries showed slight increases, while in Ireland, Spain and Portugal infection rates have declined steadily since 2004. 
  • Latest figures for seizures and drug-law offences point to an overall decrease in heroin supply. There were 40,500 seizures of the drug in 2011, down from around 55,000 in 2010. The 6.1 tonnes of heroin seized in 2011 was the lowest reported in a decade and was equivalent to about half that seized in 2001.  
  • Cocaine remains the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, although high levels of cocaine use are observed in only a small number of western European countries. It is estimated that about 2.5 million young adults (15–34 years) used cocaine in the last year.
  • Recent surveys have shown a fall in the use of cocaine by young adults (15–34 years) in countries where use among this age group has been highest in earlier years. Fewer young adults are using cocaine in Denmark, Ireland (2.8%), Spain, Italy and the UK and fewer people are entering treatment for the first time with cocaine as their main problem drug.
  • At least 475 deaths related to cocaine use were recorded in 2011.
  • The number of cocaine seizures has fallen steadily in recent years. In 2011, 62 tonnes were seized, down from 120 tonnes in 2006. There have been some recent signs of diversification in cocaine trafficking routes, with a drop in interceptions of the drug in the Spain and Portugal and increases in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and the Baltic 
Other stimulants and new psychoactive substances
  • The European Early Warning System (EWS) identified 24 new psychoactive substances in 2009, 41 in 2010 and 49 in 2011. In 2012, 73 new psychoactive substances were officially notified for the first time, 30 of which were synthetic cannabinoids and 14 new substituted phenethylamines.  
  • An estimated 1.7 million (1.3%) of young adults (15–34 years) used amphetamines during the past year. Recent data show use of the drug to be stable or declining among this age group.
  • It is estimated that 1.8 million young adults used ecstasy (MDMA) in the last year. Most countries report stable or declining levels of ecstasy use between 2006 and 2011. Ecstasy was the primary drug used by less than 1% of those entering treatment for the first time.
  • Between 2006 and 2011 the number of drug supply offences related to ecstasy fell by about two-thirds and these now represent about 1% of all reported supply offences. There is, however, some recent evidence of increased availability of MDMA, including high-purity MDMA powders.  
1. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2013) European drug report 2013: trends and developments. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19915
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Issue Title
Issue 46, Summer 2013
Page Range
pp. 5-6
Health Research Board
Issue 46, Summer 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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