The prevalence of use of illicit substances in Spain has been relatively stable over the last few years, with approximately one third of the adult population reporting lifetime use of an illicit substance. Cannabis, followed by cocaine, is the most commonly used drug, with use mainly concentrated among adolescents and adults below 35 years. Although the latest available data from the 2015 general population study confirm that the prevalence of use of both substances has declined in the last 10 years, the levels of cannabis and cocaine use in Spain remain higher than in other European Union countries.
The available data highlight that ‘experimentation’ with cannabis has become more ‘habitual’ among today’s younger Spanish generation; however, although persistent use remains low, those who continue to use cannabis do so almost daily. The use of all illicit substances remains more prevalent among males than females.
The prevalence of the use of NPS has remained stable since 2011, with about 3.4 % of adults in the 2015 study reporting ever having used NPS. Most NPS users are young males who exhibit patterns of experimental polydrug use. In general, polydrug use remains a very common consumption pattern, especially among those aged 18 and over.
Four Spanish cities (Barcelona, Castellón, Molina de Segura and Valencia) participate in the Europe-wide annual wastewater campaigns undertaken by the Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe (SCORE). This study provides data on drug use at a community level, based on the levels of illicit drugs and their metabolites in wastewater sources. The results of the 2016 study on stimulant drugs revealed high levels of cocaine metabolites in wastewater samples from all cities studied, and higher than levels reported from some other European cities participating in the study. In addition, Barcelona recorded an increase in MDMA/ecstasy residues between 2011 and 2016. A common pattern across the monitored cities was an increased use of cocaine and MDMA at weekends.
Estimates of last-year drug use among young adults (15-34 years) in Spain
NB Estimated last-year prevalence of drug use in 2015.
Substance use among 15- to 16- year-old school students in Spain
NBSource: ESTUDES (2014) and ESPAD study 2015.
Data on drug use among 14- to 18-year-old students come from The programme of State Surveys on Drug Use in Secondary Schools (ESTUDES), which has been conducted every second year in Spain since 1994. The 2014 study confirmed that the most commonly used illicit substance is cannabis, with about 3 out of 10 students admitting to having used it in the past. However, there was a slight increase in the proportion of students who had used cannabis in preceding 30 days (18.6 % in 2014; 16.1 % in 2012). Lifetime prevalence rates for other illicit drugs among the students remain well below that for cannabis. ESTUDES also supplies data to the European School Project on Alcohol and Drugs (ESPAD), and the 2014 data indicated that prevalence of lifetime cannabis use among Spanish students aged 15-16 years was higher than the ESPAD average (35 countries).
Studies reporting estimates of high-risk drug use can help to identify the extent of the more entrenched drug use problems, while data on first-time entrants to specialised drug treatment centres, when considered alongside other indicators, can inform understanding on the nature and trends in high-risk drug use.
In Spain, heroin remains the main substance linked to serious adverse health and social consequences, such as drug-related infections. The estimated number of high-risk heroin users has shown a decreasing trend since 2010, and remained stable in 2013-14. The number of high-risk cocaine users in Spain has been falling since 2009. Injecting drug use has also declined in the last 30 years among those admitted to treatment.
Heroin remains the main substance linked to serious adverse consequences but the estimated number of high-risk heroin users has remained relatively stable
Data from specialised treatment centres indicate that cocaine remains the substance resulting in the highest number of treatment entries, while the number of first-time clients reporting cocaine as the primary substance of use has decreased. Moreover, only a small proportion of cocaine users entering treatment reported injecting drug use.
Additional data from treatment centres indicate that cannabis has progressively become the main primary substance among those who enter the treatment for the first time. This corresponds to the findings of the last general population study, while the 2014 ESTUDES indicated a slight decline in daily cannabis users.
National estimates of last year prevalence of high-risk opioid use
NB Year of data 2015, or latest available year.
Characteristics and trends of drug users entering specialised drug treatment centres in Spain
NB Year of data 2014. Data is for first-time entrants, except for gender which is for all treatment entrants