Home > European drug trends 2016.

Galvin, Brian (2016) European drug trends 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, pp. 12-13.

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In May 2016 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published the European drug report 2016: trends and developments summarising the latest trends across the 28 EU member states, and Norway and Turkey.1 The report highlights the increasing use of MDMA following a period of decline in recent years, with greater levels of production helped by new sources of precursors and production techniques. The drug’s popularity with existing stimulant users has grown and a new generation of users is emerging, presenting greater health risks as more high potency products become available. 


The EU Early Warning System (EWS) reported 98 new substances, including 24 synthetic cannabinoids and 26 synthetic cathinones. The growing number of new synthetic opioids is a cause for concern and may indicate that producers are targeting existing opioid users. Several deaths associated with NPS and stimulants have been reported in Europe but most of the 6,800 overdose deaths in 2014 were related to heroin and other opioids.  Increased heroin availability, higher purity, ageing users and changing consumption patterns may be factors in this increase. Just over half of the 1.2 million people who received treatment for illicit drug use in the EU in 2014 received substitution treatment for opioid use.


Use of cannabis among young Europeans (15–34) does not appear to have fallen and there have been increases in use in some European countries. Potency levels of herbal cannabis are historically high, presenting health and social risks particularly to the one per cent of European adults who are estimated to be daily or almost daily users.   The numbers of those entering treatment for the first time for whom cannabis is their main problem drug has increased steadily since 2006, indicating greater levels of use, more potent products and greater availability of treatment services.


At the launch of the report, Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said:

Europe faces a growing problem with drugs. New psychoactive substances, stimulants, heroin and other opioids continue to be in high demand and supply, with major impacts on public health. That is why the 2016 European Drug Report is an important addition to our evidence base on the drugs problem and a helpful tool for European policymakers to shape policies and actions to address it. With this knowledge in hand, we will continue to call on EU Member State authorities, third countries, internet companies and civil society to redouble cooperation in fighting this global challenge.


The situation described in the European drug report is presented below under a series of headings. The EMCDDA used the most recent data available to provide aggregate figures. While data on some indicators, such as treatment demand, are supplied annually, the year of the most recent prevalence data can vary.



  • The EMCDDA estimates that around 16.6 million (13.3%) of young Europeans (15–34) used cannabis in the last year, 9.6 million of whom (16.4% of this age group) are aged 15–24 years.
  • The most recent survey results show different trends in last-year cannabis use. Surveys for relatively high-prevalence countries, such as Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, all show decreasing or stable cannabis prevalence over the past decade, while France shows increases in prevalence after 2010. Countries which have historically reported lower cannabis use have seen increases in recent surveys.
  • Levels of lifetime cannabis use in 2013/14 among school-aged children ranged from 5 per cent of girls and 7 per cent of boys in Sweden, to 26 per cent of girls and 30 per cent of boys in France.
  • The number of first-time treatment entrants for cannabis as their main problem drug increased from 45,000 in 2006 to 69,000 in 2014, with 55 per cent of these reporting daily use.
  • In 2014, 682,000 seizures of cannabis were reported in the European Union (453,000 of herbal cannabis, 229,000 of cannabis resin). There were a further 33,000 seizures of cannabis plants. The quantity of cannabis resin, transported in large quantities and over long distances, seized in the European Union is much higher than that of herbal cannabis (574 tonnes versus 139 tonnes). 

Opioids (mainly heroin)

    • The number of clients reporting opioids as their primary drug when entering specialised treatment for the first time seems to have levelled off, dropping from 59,000 in 2007, when they accounted for 36 per cent of all new clients, to 23,000 in 2013 (16% of new clients). Of the 185,000 opioid clients entering treatment in Europe in 2014, 34,000 were first-time entrants.
    • In 2014, 19 European countries reported that more than 10 per cent of all opioid clients entering specialised services presented for problems primarily related to opioids other than heroin including methadone, buprenorphine, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, tramadol and oxycodone.
    • Among first-time clients entering drug treatment in 2014 with heroin as their primary drug, 36 per cent reported injecting as their main route of administration, down from 43 per cent in 2006.
    • The EMCDDA estimates that at least 6,800 overdose deaths occurred in the European Union in 2014, an increase from 2013.
    • Viral hepatitis, particularly infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), is highly prevalent among injecting drug users across Europe, with six of the 13 countries with national data reporting a prevalence rate in excess of 50 per cent. Drug injection is a risk factor for other infectious diseases including hepatitis B, tetanus and botulism.
    • The quantity of heroin seized within the European Union had been declining steadily from 2002 until 2013 when 5.6 tonnes were seized. A total of 8.9 tonnes were seized in 2014. The reversal in trends is largely due to an increase in large seizures (above 100 kg) in several countries.


  • Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, although its use is more prevalent in the south and west of Europe. It is estimated that about 2.4 million young adults aged 15 to 34 (1.9% of this age group) used cocaine in the last year. Only three countries report last-year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults aged 15 to 34 of 3 per cent or more.
  • The decreases in cocaine use reported since 2008 have not been observed in the most recent surveys; of the countries that have produced surveys since 2013, six reported higher estimates, two reported a stable trend and four reported lower estimates than in the previous comparable survey.
  • Overall, cocaine was cited as the primary drug by 59,000 clients entering specialised drug treatment in 2014 and by 27,000 first-time clients. After a period of decline, the overall number of cocaine first-time treatment entrants has been stable since 2012.
  • In 2014, almost 5,500 clients entering treatment in Europe reported crack cocaine as their primary problem drug, with the United Kingdom accounting for more than half of these (3,000), and Spain, France and the Netherlands most of the remainder (2,000).
  • In the United Kingdom, deaths involving cocaine increased from 169 in 2013 to 247 in 2014. In Spain, where cocaine-related deaths have been stable for some years, the drug continued to be the second most often cited drug in overdose deaths in 2013 (236 cases).
  • In 2014, around 78,000 seizures of cocaine, amounting to 61.6 tonnes, were reported in the European Union. The situation has remained relatively stable since 2010, although both the number of seizures and the quantity seized are at levels considerably lower than in the peak years, 2006 –2008. 

Other stimulants and new psychoactive substances

  • Data on new psychoactive substances (NPS) are based on notifications by member states to the EU Early Warning System (EWS). In 2015, 98 new substances were reported for the first time (101 in 2014). Once again, the list of new substances reported was dominated by synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cathinones (24 and 26 reported respectively).
  • In 2014, almost 50,000 seizures of new substances, weighing almost 4 tonnes (3,990 kg), were made across Europe. Together, synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones accounted for almost 80 per cent of the total number of seizures and over 60 per cent of the quantity seized during 2014. Other groups included non-controlled benzodiazepines and potent narcotic analgesics, such as fentanyls.
  • Some insights into the use of new drugs are provided by respondents to the 2015 Flash Barometer on young people and drugs, a survey of young adults aged 15–34, 8 per cent of whom reported lifetime use of these substances, with 3 per cent reporting use in the last year. This represents an increase from the 5 per cent reporting lifetime use in a similar survey in 2011. Of those reporting use in the last year, 68 per cent had obtained the substance from a friend.
  • Despite drug injecting having declined in Europe overall, stimulant injecting is now a concern. Nearly half (47%) of new clients entering treatment in 2014 with amphetamines as their primary drug reported injecting as their main route of administration.
  • Latest survey data point to increased use of MDMA in Europe following a period of decline. Around 2.1 million young adults (15–34 years) report having used MDMA in the last year (1.7% of this age group). There are also signs that the drug is moving out of niche or sub-culture dance clubs into mainstream nightlife settings, such as bars and house parties.

Accompanying the European drug report are Perspectives on drugs (PODs), online interactive articles providing insights into specific issues in the drugs field. The three themes in focus this year are: cocaine trafficking to Europe, comorbidity of substance use and mental health disorders in Europe, and strategies to prevent diversion of opioid substitution treatment. 2


1 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2016) European drug report 2016: trends and developments. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25579/

2 For further information visit http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/edr2016

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Screening / Assessment
Issue Title
Issue 58, Summer 2016
August 2016
Page Range
pp. 12-13
Health Research Board
Issue 58, Summer 2016

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