Home > EU Drugs Strategy 2021–2025: policy areas, themes, and strategic priorities.

Dillon, Lucy (2021) EU Drugs Strategy 2021–2025: policy areas, themes, and strategic priorities. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 77, Spring 2021, pp. 7-11.

PDF (Drugnet Ireland 77)

This article outlines the policy areas, cross-cutting themes, and strategic priorities of the EU Drugs Strategy 2021–2025, as they appear in the published document.1 The policy areas and themes are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Policy areas and cross-cutting themes of EU Drugs Strategy 2021–2025

Policy area I: Drug supply reduction – enhancing security

An objective of the strategy is to respond, through an evidence-based approach, to the challenging development of European Union (EU) drug markets, which are characterised by high availability of various types of drugs, ever larger seizures, increasing use of violence, and huge profits. The strategy aims to contribute to the disruption of traditional and online illicit drug markets; the dismantling of organised crime groups involved in drug production and trafficking; efficient use of the criminal justice system; effective intelligence-led law enforcement; a reduction in the levels of violence associated with the illicit drug markets; and increased intelligence sharing to ensure a common approach on the part of all responsible stakeholders.

Strategic priority 1

Disrupt and dismantle high-risk drug-related organised crime groups operating in, originating in or targeting the EU member states; address links with other security threats and improve crime prevention.

Priority areas to address:

1.1 Target high-risk organised crime groups active across the EU and cross-border drug markets; set priorities in synergy with the EU policy cycle for organised and serious international crime (EMPACT)2; disrupt criminal business models, especially those that foster collaboration between different organised crime groups; and address links with other security threats.

1.2 Track, trace, freeze and confiscate the proceeds of and instruments used by organised crime groups involved in the illicit drug markets.

1.3 Prevent drug-related crime with particular focus on the need to counter violence, limit corruption, and address the exploitation of vulnerable groups by addressing the underlying factors that lead to their involvement in illicit drug markets.

Strategic priority 2

Increase the detection of illicit wholesale trafficking of drugs and drug precursors at EU points of entry and exit.

Priority areas to address:

2.1 Counter the smuggling of drugs and drug precursors in and out of the EU by using established legitimate trade channels.

2.2 Increase monitoring of border crossings that are not part of established trade channels to more effectively prevent illicit or undeclared crossings of the EU external borders.

Strategic priority 3

Tackle the exploitation of logistical and digital channels for medium- and small-volume illicit drug distribution and increase seizures of illicit substances smuggled through these channels in close cooperation with the private sector.

Priority areas to address:

3.1 Tackle digitally enabled illicit drug markets.

3.2 Target drugs trafficking via postal and express services.

3.3 Reinforce monitoring and investigation methods for cross-EU rail and fluvial channels and the general aviation space.

Strategic priority 4

Dismantle illicit drug production and counter illicit cultivation; prevent the diversion and trafficking of drug precursors for illicit drug production; and address environmental damage.

Priority areas to address:

4.1 Counter illicit production of synthetic drugs and illicit cultivation of drugs.

4.2 Tackle the diversion and trafficking of drug precursors and the development of alternative chemicals.3

4.3 Address environmental crime related to illicit drug production and trafficking.

Policy area II: Drug demand reduction
– prevention, treatment, and care services

In the area of drug demand reduction, the objective of the strategy is to contribute to the healthy and safe development of children and young people and to a reduction in the use of illicit drugs. It aims to delay the age of onset, to prevent and reduce problem drug use, to treat drug dependence, to provide for recovery and social reintegration through an integrated, multidisciplinary, and evidence-based approach and by promoting and safeguarding coherence between health, social, and justice policies.

Strategic priority 5

Prevent drug use and raise awareness of the adverse effects of drugs.

Priority areas to address:

5.1 Provide, implement, and, where needed, increase the availability of evidence-based environmental and universal prevention interventions and strategies for target groups and environments, in order to increase resilience and strengthen life skills and healthy life choices.

5.2 Provide, implement, and, where needed, increase the availability of evidence-based targeted prevention interventions for young people and other vulnerable groups.

5.3 Provide, implement, and, where needed, increase the availability of evidence-based early intervention measures.

5.4 Disseminate the latest scientific evidence on prevention to decision-makers and practitioners and provide them with training.

5.5 Address drug-impaired driving.

Strategic priority 6

Ensure access to and strengthen treatment and care services.

Priority areas to address:

6.1 Ensure voluntary access to treatment and care services that work in close coordination and collaboration with other health and social support services.

6.2 Promote peer work.

6.3 Identify and remedy the barriers to accessing treatment and ensure and, where needed, extend coverage of treatment and care services based on individual needs.

6.4 Reduce stigma.

6.5 Widely implement treatment and care addressing the specific needs of women.

6.6 Implement models of care that are appropriate for groups with special care needs.

6.7 Provide and, where needed, improve access to availability and appropriate use of substances for medical and scientific purposes.

Policy area III: Addressing drug-related harm

The use of drugs may cause health and social harm to users but also to their family and the wider community. This policy area focuses on measures and policies that prevent or reduce the possible health and social risks and harm for users, for society, and in prison settings.

Strategic priority 7

Risk-reduction and harm-reduction interventions and other measures to protect and support people who use drugs.

Priority areas to address:

7.1 Reduce the prevalence and incidence of drug-related infectious diseases and other negative health and social outcomes.

7.2 Prevent overdoses and drug-related deaths.

7.3 Promote civil society participation and ensure sustainable funding.

7.4 Provide alternatives to coercive sanctions. 

Strategic priority 8

Address the health and social needs of people who use drugs in prison settings and after release.

Priority areas to address:

8.1 Assure equivalence and continuity of healthcare provision in prison and by probationary services.

8.2 Implement evidence-based measures in prison settings to prevent and reduce drug use and its health consequences, including measures to address the risk of drug-related deaths and the transmission of blood-borne viruses.

8.3 Provide overdose prevention and referral services to ensure continuity of care on release.

8.4 Restrict the availability of drugs in prisons.

Cross-cutting theme IV: International cooperation

Strategic priority 9

Strengthening international cooperation with third countries, regions, international, and regional organisations, and at multilateral level to pursue the approach and objectives of the strategy, including in the field of development. Enhancing the role of the EU as a global broker for a people-centred and human rights-oriented drug policy.

Priority areas to address:

9.1 Continue shaping the international and multilateral agendas on drug policy.

9.2 Ensure a sustainable level of dialogue and information sharing on the strategies, aims, and relevant initiatives with third countries or regions.

9.3 Foster international cooperation by further involving competent EU agencies within their respective mandates. 

9.4 Continue and establish new cooperation programmes with third countries or regions and other partners based on regular evaluations of such programmes.

9.5 Address all the policy aspects of the strategy in international cooperation, including in the fields of security and judicial cooperation as well as the health-related aspects of drugs issues.

9.6 Strengthen the commitment to development-oriented drug policies and alternative development measures.

9.7 Protect and promote adherence to international human right standards and obligations in global drug policies.

Cross-cutting theme V: Research, innovation, and foresight

Strategic priority 10

Building synergies to provide the EU and its member states with the comprehensive research evidence base and foresight capacities necessary to enable a more effective, innovative, and agile approach to the growing complexity of the drugs phenomenon, and to increase the preparedness of the EU and its member states to respond to future challenges and crises.

Priority areas to address:

10.1   Strengthen and broaden research capacities and encourage the greater sharing and use of results.

10.2   Foster innovation so that policy and actions shift from a reactive to a proactive mode.

10.3   Develop strategic foresight and a future-oriented approach.

10.4   Strengthen coordination and synergies, and support the central role of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Europol, and the Reitox network of national focal points in research, innovation, and foresight.

10.5   Ensure adequate financing for drug-related research, innovation, and foresight. 

Cross cutting theme VI: Coordination, governance, and implementation

Strategic priority 11

Ensuring optimal implementation of the strategy and of the action plan, coordination by default of all stakeholders, and the provision of adequate resources at EU and national levels.

While this strategic priority does not have a list of specific priority areas to address, it is underpinned by 10 points for delivery.

Ten points for delivery

11.1   An action plan will be developed to guide delivery of the strategy.

11.2   Implementation should facilitate synergies and consistencies between EU and national level policies.

11.3   The strategy and action plan will be subject to external evaluation.

11.4   Appropriate and targeted resources should be allocated for the implementation of the objectives of this strategy at both EU and national level.

11.5   The European Commission will present a proposal to revise the mandate of the EMCDDA to ensure that the agency plays a stronger part in addressing the current and future challenges of the drug phenomenon. The EMCDDA and Europol should be provided with the relevant resources to enable them to fulfil their roles.

11.6   There should be coordination with agencies, bodies or organisations that have relevance for the drugs field, within their respective mandates both within and outside the EU.

11.7   The Horizontal Working Party on Drugs (HDG), as the main coordinating body on drug policy in the Council of the EU, should be kept informed of possible work linked to drugs issues, carried out by other preparatory bodies of the council. 

11.8   Coordination and synergies should be sought between the drug policy and the other policies, including in the security and health areas.

11.9   Externally, the EU and its member states should promote the approach and objectives of the strategy with one voice.

11.10 The meaningful participation and involvement of civil society should be ensured in the development and implementation of drug policies, at national, EU, and international levels.


1 Council of the European Union (2020) EU drugs strategy 2021–2025. Brussels: Council of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/33750/

2 Europol (2020) EU policy cycle – EMPACT. The Hague: Europol. Available online at: https://www.europol.europa.eu/empact

3 The term 'alternative chemicals' covers the wide range of substances variously referred to in both official and unofficial reports as ‘designer precursor’, ‘masked precursor’, ‘pre-precursor’, or ‘masked drug’. See page 2 of European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) (2019) Drug precursor developments in the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31363/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 77, Spring 2021
June 2021
Page Range
pp. 7-11
Health Research Board
Issue 77, Spring 2021

Repository Staff Only: item control page