Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug among the Maltese adult population aged 18-65 years. According to the 2013 general population study, around 4.3 % of those aged 18-65 years reported having used cannabis during their lifetime. The level of lifetime use of illicit drugs other than cannabis was 1.4 % (MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamines, cocaine, heroin, mephedrone, any of the new psychoactive substance (NPS) or LSD); MDMA was the most popular among this group of substances. Drug use was more prevalent in younger adults, with the prevalence of lifetime use of cannabis at 5.1 % among 18- to 24-year-olds. In general, the use of illicit drugs was more common among males than females. In the 2013 study, among those who had used cannabis during their lifetime, the average age at first use was just under 19.
Drug use among 15- to 16-year-old students is reported in the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). This survey has been conducted in Malta since 1995 and the latest data are from 2015. In 2015, Maltese students reported levels of lifetime cannabis use that were lower than the ESPAD average (35 countries), while levels of lifetime use of illicit drugs other than cannabis and lifetime use of NPS were close to the ESPAD average. For two key variables studied, the Maltese students reported above average levels: alcohol use in the last 30 days and heavy episodic drinking in the last 30 days. Other than this, Maltese students reported substance use levels that were around or below the ESPAD averages.
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 an understanding of the nature of and trends in high-risk drug use.
In Malta, heroin remains the illicit drug that is linked with the most severe health and social consequences. In 2016, there were an estimated 1 592 high-risk opioid users (5.52 per 1 000 population aged 15-64 years).
Data from specialised treatment centres indicate that cocaine has become the most common substance among first treatment demands in recent years, followed by cannabis and heroin. Heroin-related treatment demands decreased until 2014, but show some stabilisation in recent years. Sniffing is the main method of use for cocaine, and only a few treatment clients inject it. Almost half of first-time entrants with heroin as their primary drug report injecting. Fewer than one in five clients entering treatment are female.