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Home > European drug trends 2019.

Galvin, Brian (2019) European drug trends 2019. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 70, Summer 2019 , pp. 8-9.

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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published the European drug report 2019: trends and developments1 on 6 June 2019. This report provides a snapshot of the latest drug trends across the 28 European Union (EU) member states, Norway and Turkey. The Health Research Board (HRB) provides the Irish data.


Europe is seeing signs of an increase in cocaine availability, with seizures at record levels. The report shows that in the EU 28, Norway and Turkey over one million seizures of illicit drugs are reported annually, around 96 million adults aged 15–64 years have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime, and 1.2 million people receive treatment each year for illicit drug use. In 2018, some 55 new psychoactive substances (NPS) were detected in Europe for the first time, bringing the total monitored by the EMCDDA to 730.


Commenting on the report, the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne TD, said:

The drug problem across Europe and here at home is of great concern, and the growing problem of cocaine use is particularly worrying. In response, the HSE has developed a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers associated with cocaine and crack cocaine use. I have also recently allocated funding for the development of strategic health initiatives by the HSE and Drug and Alcohol Task Forces around the country, and it is anticipated they will include projects to tackle cocaine use.


The report also highlights the issue of drug poisonings. Any death from drug use is a tragedy and we must continue to promote harm reduction and prevent overdose. Across Europe, Supervised Injecting Facilities have been instrumental in reducing drug-related harm and I remain firmly committed to the establishment of a pilot facility in Dublin city. I also welcome the increase in the provision of Naloxone and training in its delivery as another public health measure which can greatly reduce overdose deaths in Ireland.2 


Cocaine seizures, distribution and health issues

Cocaine seizures are at the highest level for many years and the drug is becoming increasing available. Around 73,000 people entered treatment for cocaine-related problems in 2017, with worrying numbers involved in crack cocaine use, which is evident in Ireland as well. The price of cocaine has not increased but in 2017 the purity of the drugs at street level reached the highest it had been for a decade. While large-volume trafficking is still a major challenge for law enforcement agencies, there is increasing evidence that distributors are taking advantage of the opportunity presented by social media, the darknet and other technological advances.


Heroin is still the most common illicit opioid on the drug market in Europe and is a major contributor to health and social costs. Seizures of heroin and of acetic anhydride, a precursor chemical, have increased as have discoveries of heroin-processing laboratories. The synthetic opioids that have driven the opioid epidemic in North America only represent a small share of the European drug market but they are a growing concern with links to overdoses and death. Six fentanyl derivatives were detected in Europe for the first time in 2018. Drug treatment monitoring data indicate that one in every five clients entering treatment for opioid use now reports a synthetic opioid as their main problem drug.


Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug in Europe. Some 17.5 million or 14.4% of young Europeans (15–34 years) are estimated to have used cannabis in the last year (EU-28). Around 1% of adults (15–64 years) in the EU are estimated to be daily, or almost daily, cannabis users. Cannabis is now the substance most often named by new entrants to drug treatment as their main reason for contact.


Synthetic drug production in Europe appears to be growing, diversifying and becoming more innovative. Europe is producing amphetamines and MDMA for use in Europe and globally. The purity of both types of drugs is as high as it has been for several years and there are indications of increasing levels of production, such as raids on MDMA laboratories and detections of precursor dumping.


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.



European situation

  • Around 2.6 million young adults (15–34 years) have used cocaine in the last year across Europe. Of the 12 countries that have reported prevalence figures since 2016, three have reported higher estimates and nine countries were stable compared with the previous survey.
  • Between 2014 and 2017, there was a 35% increase in the number of first-time entrants to drug treatment services with cocaine as a main problem drug.
  • An estimated 10,600 clients entered treatment for primary crack cocaine use in 2016. Many of these clients report heroin as a secondary problem drug and they tend to be more socially marginalised than those in treatment for the use of powder cocaine.
  • Analyses of municipal wastewater demonstrated an increase in cocaine residues in 22 cities (out of a total of 38) between 2017 and 2018.


Cannabis: availability and use

  • Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in Europe, across all age groups.
  • The EMCDDA estimates that 14.4% of young adults (15–34 years) – an estimated 17.5 million people – used cannabis in the last year. Last-year prevalence in this age group ranged from 3.5% in Hungary to 21.8% in France.
  • Cannabis is responsible for the greatest share of new entrants to treatment. The overall number of people entering treatment for the first time and who are seeking treatment for problem cannabis use increased by 67% between 2006 and 2017, although there was a small reverse between 2016 and 2017.
  • In 2017, there were 782,000 seizures of cannabis products reported in the EU.


New psychoactive substances

  • Data on NPS are based on notifications by member states to the EU Early Warning System (EWS). In 2018, some 55 new substances were reported for the first time (51 in 2017). By the end of 2018, the EMCDDA was monitoring more than 730 NPS, compared with around 300 monitored in 2013. The number of new substances being identified for the first time each year increased sharply between 2009, when 24 were identified, and 2014 when there were 101 notifications, but has since declined with 55 identified in 2018.
  • 390 substances, approximately one-half of the new substances being monitored by the EU EWS, were detected in Europe in 2017.
  • In 2017, almost 78,000 seizures of NPS were reported across Europe, 53,000 of which were in EU member states.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones were the most frequently seized NPS in 2017, with just over 32,000 seizures reported. 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.
  • Production of MDMA is concentrated in Belgium and the Netherlands and has increased in recent years as substitutes for controlled precursors of the drug have become more available.
  • An estimated 6.6 million MDMA tablets were reported seized in 2017, the highest number reported in the EU in any year since 2007.
  • The EMCDDA estimates that 2.1 million young adults (15–34 years), or 1.7% of this age group, used MDMA/ecstasy in the last year. National estimates vary considerably with the Netherlands highest at 7.1%.


Opioids (mainly heroin)

  • There were an estimated 1.3 million high-risk opioid users in Europe in 2017.
  • In 2017, use of opioids was reported as the main reason for entering specialised drug treatment by 177,000 clients or 37% of all those entering drug treatment in Europe. Of these, 32,000 were first-time entrants, a drop of 3,800 compared with the previous year. The number of first-time heroin clients more than halved from a peak in 2007, to a low point in 2013.
  • It is estimated that at least 8,279 overdose deaths, mainly involving opioids, occurred in the EU in 2017. As in previous years, the United Kingdom (34%) and Germany (13%) together account for nearly one-half of the European total.


1    European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2019) European drug report 2019: trends and developments. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

2    Health Research Board (HRB) (2019) HRB compares Irish drug situation with the rest of Europe. Dublin: HRB.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Alcohol, All substances, Substances (not alcohol/tobacco), Cannabis, CNS depressants / Sedatives, CNS stimulants, Cocaine, Inhalents and solvents, Opioid, New psychoactive substance, Prescription/Over the counter
Issue Title
Issue 70, Summer 2019
September 2019
Page Range
pp. 8-9
Health Research Board
Issue 70, Summer 2019

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