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Home > European drug trends 2017.

Galvin, Brian (2017) European drug trends 2017. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 62, Summer 2017, pp. 1-4.

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In May the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published the European drug report 2017: trends and developments  summarising the latest trends across the 28 EU member states, Norway and Turkey1. The report highlights the findings a major school survey in 2016 that showed that last-month cannabis use among European school students was around half the level reported in a similar study from the US. Cannabis use among school students in Europe appears to be stable while smoking and drinking is declining. The percentage of European students reporting last-month alcohol use was more than double (49%) that reported by their American peers (21%)2.


An estimated 8,440 people died from drug overdose, mainly related to heroin and other opioids, in 2015. This is the third year in a row that overdose deaths in Europe have increased. Methadone-related deaths exceed heroin-related deaths in four European countries, including Ireland. Supervised drug consumption facilities are available in seven European countries and ten countries are running take-home naloxone programmes. Naloxone is an opioid overdose-reversal drug.


While the number of new substances being introduced to drug market has declined, the overall number of substances now available continues to grow. In 2016 the EMCDDA monitoring more than 620 new psychoactive substances (NPS), compared with around 300 monitored in 2013. The slower rate of detection of new substances may be due a more restrictive legal environment in some Member States and operations against NPS laboratories in China.


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

The impact of the drugs problem continues to be a significant challenge for European societies. Over 93 million Europeans have tried an illicit drug in their lives and overdose deaths continue to rise for the third year in a row. I am especially concerned that young people are exposed to many new and dangerous drugs. Already 25 highly potent synthetic opioids have been detected in Europe between 2009 and 2016, of which only small volumes are needed to produce many thousands of doses, thus posing a growing health threat.


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 17.1 million (13.9%) of young Europeans (15–34) used cannabis in the last year, 10 million of whom (17.7% of this age group) are aged 15-24 years.
  • The most recent survey results show that countries continue to follow divergent paths in last year cannabis use. Of the countries that have produced surveys since 2014, 9 reported higher estimates, 6 were stable and 2 reported lower estimates than in the previous comparable survey.
  • Levels of lifetime cannabis use in 2014 among school-aged children was, on average, 18%, with the highest levels reported by the Czech Republic (37%) and France (31%).
  • The number of first-time treatment entrants for cannabis as their main problem drug increased from 43,000 in 2006 to 76,000 in 2015. It is estimated that around 1% of European adults are daily or almost daily cannabis users.
  • In 2015, 703,000 seizures of cannabis were reported in the European Union (416,000 of herbal cannabis, 287,000 of cannabis resin). There were a further 21,000 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 (537 tonnes versus 73 tonnes). 

Opioids (mainly heroin)

  • There was an estimated 1.3 million high-risk opioid users in Europe in 2015.
  • Of the 191,000 clients entering specialised treatment and reporting opioids as their primary drug in 2015, 29,000 were first-time entrants. The numbers of new entrants to treatment had declined from 56,000 in 2007, when they accounted for 36 % of all new clients, to 23,000 in 2013.
  • In 2015, 17 European countries reported that more than 10 % 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 2015 with heroin as their primary drug, 29 % reported injecting as their main route of administration, down from 43 % in 2006.
  • The EMCDDA estimates that at least 7,584 overdose deaths occurred in the European Union in 2015, an increase from the 6,800 figure recorded in2014. The reported number of overdose deaths increased among older age groups between 2007 and 2015, while those among younger age groups decreased.
  • Viral hepatitis, particularly infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), is highly prevalent among injecting drug users across Europe with 5 of the 13 countries with national data reporting a prevalence rate in excess of 50 % in 2014-15. Drug injection is a risk factor for other infectious diseases including hepatitis B, tetanus and botulism.


  • Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe. Its use is more prevalent in the south and west of Europe. It is estimated that about 2.3 million young adults aged 15 to 34 (1.9% of this age group) used cocaine in the last year. Only Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom report last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of 2.5 % or more.
  • The decreases in cocaine use reported since 2008 had not been observed in the most recent surveys; of the countries that have produced surveys since 2014, three reported higher estimates, twelve reported a stable trend and one reported lower estimates than in the previous comparable survey.
  • Overall, cocaine was cited as the primary drug by 63,000 clients entering specialised drug treatment in 2015, with the UK accounting for almost three quarters of all reported treatment entries for cocaine. After a period of decline, the overall number of cocaine first time treatment entrants has been stable since 2012 and there were 28,000 first-time clients in 2015.
  • In 2014, almost 7,400 clients entering treatment in Europe reported crack cocaine as their primary problem drug, with the United Kingdom accounting for more than half of these (4,800), and Spain, France and the Netherlands most of the remainder (1,900).
  • In the United Kingdom, deaths involving cocaine increased from 169 in 2013 to 320 in 2015. 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 2014 (269 cases).
  • In 2015, around 88,000 seizures of cocaine, amounting to 68.7 tonnes, were reported in the European Union. The situation has remained relatively stable since 2007, although both the number of seizures and the quantity seized at increased between 2014 and 2015.


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 2016, 66 new substances were reported for the first time (98 in 2015). By the end of 2016, the EMCDDA was monitoring more than 620 NPS, compared with around 300 monitored in 2013.
  • In 2015, almost 80 000 seizures of NPS were made across Europe, more than double the number reported in 2014. Together, synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones accounted for almost 60 % of the total number of all seizures of NPS.
  • In 2015, synthetic cannabinoids accounted for just over 24 000 seizures. This represents an increase of almost 7 000 seizures compared to 2014 figures. Since 2008, 169 synthetic cannabinoids have been detected in a range of different products — including 11 new cannabinoids reported in 2016, and these continue to be the largest group of new drugs monitored by the EMCDDA.
  • Synthetic cathinones are the second largest group of new drugs monitored by the EMCDDA. In total, 118 synthetic cathinones have been identified since 2005, with 14 reported for the first time in 2016, a decrease from the 31 reported in 2014.
  • Numbers of detections of new opioids and benzodiazepines rose markedly in 2016. Nine new opioids were detected for the first time in 2016. Over 60 % of the 600 seizures of new synthetic opioids reported in 2015 were fentanyl derivatives. Over 300 000 tablets containing benzodiazepines, such as clonazolam, diclazepam, etizolam and flubromazolam were seized in 2015. This figure was almost twice the number reported in 2014.
  • The EMCDDA estimates that 2.3 million young adults (15–34) used MDMA/ecstasy in the last year (1.8% of this age group), with national estimates ranging from 0.3% to 6.6%. These figures suggest an increase in use following a number of years of decline.
  • Around two thirds of European countries (19) reported some level of use of new psychoactive substances among their populations of high-risk opioid and stimulant users. The injection of synthetic cathinones among these groups was reported, with the substance used often varying by country.


Accompanying the European Drug Report 2017 will be Perspectives on drugs (PODs), online interactive articles providing insights into specific issues in the drugs field. A number of these PODs have been updated and are published today alongside the EDR. The themes covered are Cannabis resin market, Drug consumption rooms, Preventing overdose deaths in Europe, Synthetic cannabinoids in Europe and Wastewater based epidemiology.


 1 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2017) European drug report 2017: trends and developments. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

2 For further information visit

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco), Cannabis, CNS depressants / Sedatives, CNS stimulants, Cocaine, Opioid, New psychoactive substance, Prescription/Over the counter
Issue Title
Issue 62, Summer 2017
August 2017
Page Range
pp. 1-4
Health Research Board
Issue 62, Summer 2017

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