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Serbia country overview — a summary of the national drug situation



Serbia country overview
A summary of the national drug situation

Map of Serbia

Our partner in Serbia

The EMCDDA has been implementing technical cooperation projects in Serbia since 2007. Since 2015, the cooperation is carried out with the Serbian focal point within the Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in the Ministry of Health. The work of the Centre is oriented to the collection and analysis of information related to the five key epidemiological indicators, supply indicators and the Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances. Read more »

Ministry of Health

Nemanjina 22-26
11 000 Belgrade
Tel.: +381 113616244

Head of the focal point:
Ms Jelena Jankovic


Last update: April, 2013

Our partner in Serbia

Ministry of Health of Serbia

Nemanjina 22-26
11 000 Belgrade
Tel.: +381 113616244

Head of the focal point:
Ms Jelena Jankovic

The EMCDDA has been implementing technical cooperation projects in Serbia since 2007. Since 2015, the cooperation is carried out with the Serbian focal point within the Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction in the Ministry of Health. The work of the Centre is oriented to the collection and analysis of information related to the five key epidemiological indicators, supply indicators and the Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances.

Read more about the EMCDDA's activities with Candidate and Potential candidate countries.

Drug use among the general population and young people

The sources of information on drug use among the general population and young people are health surveys that include questions about drug use and the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) studies.

In 2006, a national general population survey ‘Narcotics in Serbia’ was implemented in the framework of the project funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM). The study provides data on the lifetime, last year and last month prevalence of illegal drugs, inhalants and steroids. A stratified two-stage representative sample of 10 690 people (aged 15 to 59) was used and the survey instrument was a self-administered questionnaire (Strategic Marketing, 2006). A total of 10.9 % of respondents reported a lifetime prevalence of any illegal drug. Some 10.7 % reported a lifetime prevalence of cannabis, 1.9 % of ecstasy and 1.3 % of cocaine use. Last year prevalence reported for cannabis use was 3.4 % and last month was 1.9 %. The highest lifetime prevalence of any illegal drug among respondents was in the 15 to 34 age group (19.2 %). Lifetime cannabis use was reported by 18.9 %, while last month cannabis use was reported by 4.2 % of people aged 15 to 34. The average age of first-time illegal drug use was 18.6 (median 18.0).

The national health surveys were conducted twice (2000 and 2006) based on the same methodology and the next survey is planned for 2012. In the 2006 survey, a stratified two-stage representative sample was used. The survey instrument was a self-administered questionnaire developed in two versions for young people aged 12 to 19 and for adults over 20 years of age. Some 3.5 % of people over 20 years of age and 9.9 % of those aged 20 to 34 reported lifetime use of cannabis. Lifetime use of other illegal drugs was reported by a very small percentage. Although these results show lower prevalence in comparison with other surveys, and questions on the use of psychoactive substances were associated with a very low response rate, no statistically significant difference was observed in comparison with survey results from 2000 (Institute of Public Health of Serbia, 2000), when 3.2 % of people aged 20 to 75 and 8.7 % of those aged 20 to 34 reported lifetime cannabis use.
In the 2006 national health survey, some 14.3 % of young people aged 15 to 29 reported having tried illegal drugs (Ministry of Health, 2006). A regional distribution indicates that the highest proportion of young people who had tried drugs was in Belgrade (22.8 %), followed by Vojvodina (17.2 %), and the lowest rates were observed in Central Serbia (9.1 %). The highest prevalence of reported drug use was observed among those aged 25 to 29 (19.9 %). The proportion of 15- to 19-year-olds who had reported trying some psychoactive substances was 6.9 %, which is less than the 9.3 % reported in 2000.

In 2008, the first national ESPAD study was conducted by the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia and the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, in close cooperation with the ESPAD international coordinator and the EMCDDA. According to the results, lifetime prevalence of illicit drug use was 8.0 % (this includes cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine, crack, ecstasy, LSD or other hallucinogens, heroin and GHB). Some 6.7 % of students had tried cannabis at least once during their lifetime (9 % boys and 5 % girls), 5.0 % reported cannabis or hashish use in past 12 months and 2.0 % during the last 30 days (3.0 % boys and 2.0 % girls). Some 7.5 % of respondents who had reported use of cannabis had used it 40 or more times during their lifetime. Apart from cannabis, 7.6 % of respondents reported using sedatives without a doctor’s prescription. The lifetime prevalence rate of illicit drugs other than cannabis or hashish was 3.0 % or lower (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia, 2008a).

In 2011, the second national ESPAD study was conducted with the support of the Implementation of the National Strategy of Drug Abuse (INSADA) project funded by the EU. It found that, as in 2008, a total of 8.0 % of students reported having consumed some illegal drug at least once in their lifetime. Some 7.0 % of respondents reported having tried marijuana at least once in their lifetime. Similar to the previous ESPAD survey, boys reported a higher prevalence of trying marijuana at least once in their lifetime than girls (9.0 % and 4.0 % respectively). Some 5.0 % of respondents reported marijuana use in the past year and 3.0 % had used cannabis in the last 30 days (4.0 % boys and 1.0 % girls). As in the 2008 survey, 7 % of respondents had used sedatives without a doctor’s prescription. Some 3.0 % of first-grade students reported they had used psychoactive substance other than marijuana or hashish. Apart from inhalants, which were used by 5.3 % of students, other drugs were used by less than 3.0 % of students (see Table 1).


Table 1: Use of psychoactive substances, ESPAD (%)

Year Lifetime prevalence
Illicit drugs Cannabis Sedatives without doctor’s prescription Alcohol together with pills Cocaine Heroin Ecstasy
2008 8 7 8 3 1 1 2
2011 8 7 7 2 1 1 1
The results from both surveys, conducted according to the ESPAD methodology, show a higher proportion of use among boys with regard to nearly all substances, except for non-prescribed sedatives.

Problem drug use

In 2008, the National HIV/AIDS Office estimated that there were 18 000 injecting drug users (IDUs) in Serbia in 2007 (95 % CI of 12 500–25 000). This estimate was calculated using the multiplier method. As a multiplier, a proportion of IDUs who reported HIV testing in the Special Hospital for Dependence Diseases in Belgrade in 2007 was used. The benchmark for this multiplier was programmatic data on numbers of unique IDUs who were tested for HIV. It provided an estimate of 6 000 IDUs in Belgrade, which was then extrapolated for the whole country based on information obtained from Ministry of Interior Affairs that approximately one-third of all IDUs in Serbia live in Belgrade.

In 2010/2011 estimates of the prevalence of people who use drugs by injecting were obtained using two methods, the multiplier method and a national survey related to drugs. Three multipliers were available from the Integrated Bio-behavioural Survey (IBBS) and relevant benchmarks were also available. The three available multipliers were the proportion of IDUs who reported using needle exchange services, the proportion of IDUs who reported HIV testing and finally the proportion of IDUs who reported being on detoxification treatment in the last year. The IDU population was defined as individuals aged between 18 and 49 years who have injected a drug for non-medical purposes within the last year. The chosen estimation was based on the detoxification data. As harm reduction interventions are limited to a few cities, this was seen as the most prudent choice. Based on this method, estimates were found to be 13 040 IDUs (9 5% CI of 10 867 to 16 300) for Belgrade, 1 640 IDUs (95 % CI of 845 to 27 333) for the region of Vojvodina (city of Novi Sad only) and 2 967 IDUs (95 % CI of 2 225 to 4 450) for the rest of Serbia (city of Nis only). A central national estimate was calculated as 30 383 IDUs aged between 15 and 59, within a range of possibly 12 682 to 48 083 IDUs in Serbia in 2009 (Comiskey et al., 2011). The estimated prevalence of IDUs in Serbia was 0.7 % of the population aged between 15 and 59.

It is interesting to note that the lower bound of the 95 % confidence interval (CI) derived from the national minimum estimate based on the 2006 population survey is similar to the sum of the lower bound of the 95 % CI of the estimate derived from the summation of the three city detoxification multipliers, which was 13 937 IDUs, which provides a measure of validation for the results. Furthermore, it must be remembered that estimates produced are for injecting drug users only and do not provide estimates of the number of non-injecting users of opiates or other drugs. Finally, a further limitation is the fact that the national estimate is based solely on data from three cities (Belgrade, Novi Sad and Nis).

This prevalence estimate is important as a benchmark for service provision — for example, the proportion of IDUs in contact with needle and exchange programmes is relatively low (8.6 %) and the proportion was even lower for methadone maintenance treatment. This has clear implications for policy action with regard to the risk of HIV and hepatitis infection incidence and spread.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy has made provision for new estimates that are anticipated from the GFATM project in 2012 and 2014.

Treatment demand

The national health information system regularly collects data on morbidity under ICD-10 from all levels of healthcare. The number of cases diagnosed/registered as F11–F19 (mental and behavioural disorders due to psychoactive substance use) in primary healthcare was 8 109 in 2011; 8 301 in 2010; 9 363 in 2009; 8 454 in 2008; and 8 002 in 2007. In secondary and tertiary healthcare, the number of people hospitalised due to F11–F19 was 1 987 in 2011; 2 447 in 2010; 2 518 in 2009; 2 630 in 2008; and 1 999 in 2007 (data from the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, Centre for Informatics and biostatistics).

A system for collecting data in accordance with the treatment demand indicator (TDI) protocol is still in the process of being implemented in the Institute of Public Health of Serbia. Up to now it has been partially implemented in four regional special drug treatment centres (in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac). Data from the beginning of 2010 to the middle of 2011 was entered according to TDI protocol 2.0 for most newly treated opioid substitution treatment (OST) clients and for a larger group of clients who have already been included in the OST programme before 2010. In the second half of 2011 TDI protocol 3.0 was introduced in the centres. Data analysis for 2010 show that out of a group of 648 clients for whom the questionnaires were completed and data entered into the data base, 11 % were female and 89 % male, and 18.5 % were younger than 25 years of age. Of these clients, 36 % were being treated with OST for the first time in these centres.

According to a survey of the population most at risk of HIV/AIDS, carried out in 2008, about one-tenth of IDUs surveyed were on methadone treatment, a similar number as was estimated in Belgrade in 2005 (10 %, 95 % CI: 6–13 %) (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia, 2008b). In 2010, the survey confirmed that one-fifth of IDUs in Belgrade underwent detoxification in the last 12 months, and about 3.6 % were in a methadone substitution programme (Ministry of Health of Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia, 2010).

Drug-related infectious diseases

The data on drug-related infectious disease in Serbia comes from the national HIV and AIDS registers and bio-behavioural surveillance studies (in 2008 and 2010). From 1985 until the end of 2011 a total of 2 725 people were notified as HIV infected, of whom 1 594 (59 %) developed AIDS. Over the same period, 1 114 HIV-infected people died (1 027 from AIDS-related deaths) (data source: national HIV and AIDS registers). The majority of all HIV cases were registered in Belgrade (around 70 %). Of 1 594 reported AIDS cases, 637 (40 %) were reported among IDUs. From 1991 the trend in the percentage of IDUs among all newly diagnosed and reported HIV cases has been clearly decreasing year by year. However, an increasing trend of heterosexual or homo/bisexual transmission of HIV was registered in the same period.
  • In 2011, out of 127 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 9 (7 %) were IDUs
  • In 2010, out of 148 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 6 (around 4 %) were IDUs
  • In 2009, out of 131 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 9 (7 %) were IDUs
  • In 2008, out of 115 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 10 (8.7 %) were IDUs
  • In 2007, out of 91 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 12 (13 %) were IDUs
  • In 2006, out of 89 newly diagnosed HIV cases, 8 (8.9 %) were IDUs

According to the annual reports provided by the Department for Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases of the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, 98 cases of acute hepatitis C infection were notified in 2011, compared to: 87 cases in 2010; 93 cases in 2009; 169 in 2008; 150 in 2007; 169 in 2006; and 202 in 2005. Moreover, 427 cases of chronic hepatitis C infection were reported in 2011, compared to: 462 cases in 2010; 503 in 2009; 540 in 2008; 573 in 2007; 444 in 2006; and 508 in 2005. There are no data related to the transmission category of reported cases of hepatitis C. The highest age-related notification rate among newly reported cases of acute hepatitis C in 2011 was registered in the age group 20 to 29 (3.38 per 100 000), which is higher than in 2010 (1.81 per 100 000) and 2009 (2.88 per 100 000). The rate was also higher in 2011 for the age group 30 to 39 (2.97 per 100 000) compared to those registered in 2010 (2.4 per 100 000) and in 2009 (2.31 per 100 000). Also, the highest age-related notification rate of chronic hepatitis C had been registered in the age group 30 to 39 (15.37 per 100 000 in 2011, up from 12.18 per 100 000 in 2010 and 13.38 per 100 000 in 2009). Among those aged 20 to 29 the notification rate of chronic hepatitis C had fallen to 11.35 per 100 000 in 2011, from 12.18 per 100 000 in 2010 and 14.93 per 100 000 in 2009.

Of 256 reported cases of acute hepatitis B infection in Serbia, in 2011 only 2 % were among IDUs (five cases), which is lower compared to 7 % in 2010 (18 out of 242 reported cases) and 5 % in 2009 (14 out of 287 reported cases) based on data from epidemiological investigation of notified cases. The highest age-related notification rate among all newly reported cases of acute hepatitis B infection in 2011 was registered in the age group 20 to 29 (7.98 per 100 000), which is higher compared to 2010 (5.34 per 100 000) and 2009 (6.96 per 100 000), but lower compared to 2008 (8.98 per 100 000).

In order to monitor and evaluate the trend of seroprevalence, risk behaviour, testing practice, using the harm reduction services, etc., in 2010 the second cycle of integrated cross-sectional bio-behavioural surveillance survey was carried out outside of health facilities among eligible IDUs aged 18 and over who injected drugs in the last month in Belgrade and Nis. A respondent-driven sampling methodology was used. The research tool was a structured questionnaire administered by trained field researchers. Testing of full blood samples for HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis was done using rapid tests, and with mandatory pre-test counselling given by trained counsellors, together with post-test counselling for those who wanted to know the results (around half of all participants). A total of 571 IDUs were included in the survey (371 in Belgrade and 200 in Nis). The results showed that prevalence of HIV infection in the sample was as low as 2.4 % in Belgrade and 4.5 % in Nis (in 2008 the figures were 4.7 % in Belgrade and 1.6 % in Nis). Prevalence of hepatitis C infection was 77.4 % in Belgrade and 60.5 % in Nis (74.8 % in Belgrade and 58.4 % in Nis in 2008). Prevalence of syphilis infection was extremely low (0.5 % among respondents in Belgrade aged 25 and over).

Regarding the socio-demographic characteristics of respondents, around 80 % of the sample was male, and 16 % of the respondents were aged 18 to 24. Some 75 % of respondents were unemployed. The median age of first injecting a drug was 21 years in Belgrade and 22 years in Nis. The practice of sharing needles and syringes with other users in the previous month was reported by 23 % of sampled IDUs in Belgrade and 15 % in Nis.

Risky sexual practice was observed amongst respondents — around one-third of respondents reported using a condom during their previous sexual intercourse among those who had sex in the month or in the 12 months prior to the survey, and the median number of sexual partners in the last year was two in Belgrade and three in Nis. More than one-third of respondents reported that their sexual partners do not inject drugs. One-third of respondents in Belgrade (33 %) and 19 % in Nis reported having been tested for HIV in the last 12 months, while 73 % of respondents from Belgrade and 57 % from Nis reported ever being tested for hepatitis C.

A very low rate of coverage of prevention programmes (needle exchange programmes and condom distribution) was found in both cities (20 % in Belgrade and 7 % in Nis).

Of the 67 % of respondents in Belgrade who reported trying to reduce their drug use in the last 12 months, 19 % reported being on a detoxification programme, while only 3.6 % were on a methadone maintenance treatment programme. Of 82 % respondents in Nis who reported trying to reduce their drug use in the last 12 months, 12 % reported being on a detoxification programme while only 5 % were on a methadone maintenance programme (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia, 2010).

Drug-induced deaths and mortality among drug users

The National Office for Statistic is the official source of data on drug deaths. According to data from the general mortality register (selection B of EMCDDA standard), there were 39 cases of drug-related deaths in 2011; 75 in 2010; 119 in 2009; and 117 in 2008. A majority of the deaths were associated with opiates. In 2011, four people under 25 years of age died from drug-related overdose. The majority of the deaths were in the age group 25 to 34 (22 out of 39). In 2010, some 42 out of 75 drug-related deaths were in the same age group (74 out of 119 in 2009, and 73 out of 117 in 2008). The majority of deceased were males (around 90 % annually).

The standard practice with unnatural deaths is that the investigating judge orders an autopsy. The death certificate is sent to the National Office for Statistic after autopsy and toxicology results.

A toxicological analysis of post-mortem samples is performed in the Medical Military Academy and in institutes of forensic medicine in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and, partly, in Kragujevac. There is no common data collection system in place yet.

Treatment responses

In Serbia, drug treatment is available in the form of diagnostic and therapeutic consultations and counselling; inpatient and outpatient withdrawal treatment; relapse prevention with pharmacotherapy or drug-free; opiate substitution treatment (OST); and individual, group and family psychotherapy and psychosocial support and integration. Drug addiction treatment is provided at all three healthcare levels.

At the primary level, general practitioners, psychiatrists, paediatricians or other outpatient specialists provide outpatient diagnostic procedures and medical treatment for drug users. At secondary level, inpatient and outpatient medical treatment is carried out by psychiatrists in general hospitals. Tertiary healthcare facilities are located in the four largest cities in Serbia (Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad and Kragujevac). The specialised regional referral centres for drug addiction treatment are: (i) the Special Hospital for Addictions in Belgrade; (ii) the Clinic for Addiction Disease at the Institute of Psychiatry, Novi Sad; (iii) the Clinic for Mental Health in Nis; and (iv) the Clinic for Psychiatry, Kragujevac. These centres provide the highest level of health services for addiction treatment. The Special Hospital for Addictions in Belgrade (SHDA) is the oldest and largest institution for addiction treatment in Serbia, with 21 physicians and a 65-bed capacity for inpatients.

Drug treatment for substance use disorders (i.e. detoxification, methadone therapy, inpatient treatment of drug dependence and treatment of drug-induced psychoses) is financed through the national Health Insurance Fund.

Methadone was first introduced into Serbia at the end of the 1970s. By the middle of the 1980s more than 500 opiate addicts had been included in the OST programme. Nowadays, opiate substitution treatment is available in health facilities from primary to tertiary healthcare levels, and a majority of them are still functioning, with the support of the GFATM. During the 1990s, the drug-free naltrexone programme for heroin addicts was introduced. In March 2010, buprenorphine was registered at the National Drug Agency for the treatment of opiate addiction. In September 2010, implementation of buprenorphine detoxification and substitution treatment protocols began at the SHDA and other regional healthcare centres. Substitution treatment can be initiated in inpatient or outpatient health care and the decision to initiate the treatment should be made by a therapeutic team.

Based on the reports of 24 OST centres for 2011, sent to the National HIV/AIDS Office, the total number of drug users in the 24 GFATM-funded methadone centres from 1 January to 31 March 2011 was 1 435. There were 495 first-time clients, most of whom were males (82.8 %) (Institute of Public Health of Serbia, National HIV/AIDS Office).

According to the Ministry of Health Project Unit implementing the GFATM, the number of OST clients is even greater, as they identified 1 774 clients in total (1 520 in 2010, and 1 114 in 2009). GFTAM support the OST programmes through supplying urine test and providing information education, communication materials for the programme clients. In 2011, some 79 clients of SHDA received buprenorphine, of which 68 were first-time clients.

The healthcare system for drug addicts in prisons is improving. In 2009, voluntary and confidential counselling and testing for HIV and hepatitis C of all newly admitted patients, individual and group counselling on risk behaviour, HIV, HCV and overdosing were implemented in healthcare services in penal institutions. Methadone substitution therapy can be administered in penal institutions to opiate-addicted clients. In 2011, the number of registered drug addicts among prisoners was 4 929 (detained, convicted, juveniles, punished for minor offence); in 2010 there were 6 211. The number of people deprived of their liberty in Serbia as of 31 December 2011 was 11 094.

As of 31 December 2011, a total of 128 people were receiving substitution treatment while in prison. For 2010 and 2009 the numbers of OST clients in prison were 119 and 103 respectively. With the support of the Mission of the OSCE, drug-free units were opened at two penal correctional institutions: in Nis and the Special Prison Hospital in Belgrade. The prerequisite for prisoners to be at those units is their absolute abstinence from all psychoactive substances (Ministry of Justice Prison Administration, 2011).

The Serbian Orthodox Church has some rehabilitation centres. ‘Land of the living’ is a programme organised by the Serbian Orthodox Church in six centres. Approximately 150 IDUs per year enter the programme. Between 2006 and 2011 more than 600 people started the programme and over 60 successfully completed it. There are plans for opening more rehabilitation centres, although this would depend on the availability of financial resources.

As regards treatment of non-fatal poisonings, the Department for Reanimation and Triage of the National Centre for Poisoning Control in the Medical Military Academy treated 162 overdose cases in 2011 and 338 in 2010, The majority of patients (125 out of 162) were 19 to 40 years old (290 out of 338 in 2010) and more than 70 % were male in both years. In 2011, two people were under medical observation due to having transported illegal substances inside their body (‘body packers’), while in 2010 there were nine such individuals. The main substance in the majority of cases was heroin (data received from the Medical Military Academy).

Under the leadership of UNODC and the WHO, the ‘Programme on drug dependence treatment and care’ was implemented in May 2010. The TREATNET training package has been translated into Serbian and a ‘training of trainers’ event was carried out. This training package is also recognised and accredited by national accreditation schemes for the continuous education of medical professionals. In Serbia 551 practitioners have already been trained in the programme. Under this programme several other workshops and expert round tables on issues concerning drug dependence treatment were also implemented. A main focus of the programme is the improvement of services for so-called ‘hidden populations’. A grant agreement of USD 84 000 was signed with Public Health Centre institution DZ Savski Venac to support, improve and expand the drug dependence treatment and care services.

Harm reduction responses

The first assessment of harm reduction in Serbia was conducted in 2000 by Médecins du Monde (MdM), French harm reduction programme coordinators. The assessment confirmed a priority need for the implementation of a harm reduction project. On 29 July 2002, the MdM launched the first needle and syringe exchange project in Belgrade and the programme is currently operated by an NGO in Veza.

NGOs in Serbia operate drop-in centres and mobile units where education and care services to drug users are provided by a team of trained outreach workers. On average, the NGO sector provides support to 2 000 drug users annually. The mobile units and drop-in centres provide low-threshold care in a client-friendly environment. For those in need of medical and social assistance, a team of outreach workers provides care on a daily bases. At the same time, drug users can participate in a needle exchange programme (NEP). NEPs exist in Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad and Kragujevac. The NEP in Belgrade started in 2002, managed by NGO Veza; in Nis it started in December 2004 and is managed by NGO Putokaz; in Novi Sad it started in 2006 and is managed by NGO Prevent; and in Kragujevac the NEP started in 2009 and is managed by Youth YAZAS Pozarevac in cooperation with Youth YAZAS Kragujevac. In 2005, the Government took the first step to integrating the harm reduction approach into the medical and social infrastructure of the country. The Ministry of Health offered systemic support by placing harm reduction on its agenda and securing budgetary funding and logistics for its implementation throughout the national health system (widening a network of health institutions eligible to treat drug addiction, and opening MMT centres).

The Ministry of Health project ‘Scaling up the national HIV/AIDS response by decentralising the delivery of key services’, funded from the GFATM grant, officially started on 1 June 2007. The grant sub-recipients are both governmental and non-governmental organisations, and include clinics for infectious diseases, psychiatric clinics, institutes for public health, primary healthcare centres, penitentiary institutions, homes for children without parental care, NGOs implementing outreach prevention programmes, faith-based organisations, associations of people living with HIV, etc.

Within the part of the project that was aimed at IDUs, the following activities were carried out:

  • NGO staff/outreach workers received training in HIV prevention based on harm reduction principles;
  • police officers received training and orientation on the principles of harm reduction;
  • medical staff from all healthcare institutions and prisons included in the project received training on methadone maintenance therapy.

In July 2009 Serbia signed a second grant agreement with GFATM for the new project ‘Strengthening HIV prevention and care for the groups most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS’. Harm reduction activities within this project entail the opening of drop-in centres for IDUs and the extension of methadone maintenance treatment (MMT) in primary healthcare centres. The GFATM project includes training on harm reduction principles and sensitisation of medical professionals and police officers for work with injecting drug users. During 2007–10, approximately 525 health workers, 184 police officers and 42 outreach workers participated in training. In 2011 a total of 17 health workers were educated on MMT, and five outreach workers on harm reduction.

Based on the reports sent to the National HIV/AIDS Office by four NGOs that implement the NEP programme in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Nis and Kragujevac, in 2011 the number of newly reached IDU clients was 974. The minimum package of services provided to every new client consists of a risk assessment, counselling on risk reduction (based on the assessment), provision of sterile injecting equipment, condoms and information material, as well as referral to a local voluntarily counselling and testing (VCT) centre (IPHs, SHDA Belgrade, Institute for Students’ Health, Belgrade). The majority of new clients are older than 24 (80.5 %), while 4.1 % are younger than 20. Most (81.7 %) are male, which is in line with research findings showing that more than 70 % of new clients in Belgrade and Nis were male (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia, 2010).

According to the Project Implementation Unit at the Ministry of Health, in 2009 (from 1 June) 2 320 clients were served by NEPs, 2 695 clients in 2010, and 1 751 in 2011.

However, needle exchange programmes remain highly dependent on external funding in order to operate. In 2005–06, Imperial College conducted a study that confirmed that on average an IDU in Serbia injects 2.3 times per day, and therefore requires 840 needles per year, which totals over 9 million needles per year for Serbia as a whole.

VCT for HIV and HCV is also available at 22 IPHs, SHDA and Institute for Students’ Health, Belgrade. According to the report from the 24 VCT centres for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) sent to the National HIV/AIDS Office, the total number of IDUs tested for HIV in 2011 was 1 000. The majority of them (650) were counselled on HIV and STDs and tested for HIV in SHDA. According to the same source, 414 counselled clients were tested for HCV and 420 for HBV and a majority in SHDA (353 HCV and HBV).

In order to prevent new HIV and hepatitis C cases more effectively by improving knowledge and skills and reducing risk behaviour amongst IDUs in Serbia, an expansion of harm reduction programmes and provision of a standardised minimum package of services in outreach activities and in drop-in centres has been planned.

Drug markets and drug-law offences

Smuggling and trafficking of heroin are the traditional forms of organised drug crime in Serbia. The presence of this type of narcotic is determined by the fact that Serbia is a transit area for the shortest terrestrial and other roads between the countries where heroin is produced, and west European countries where it is sold in drug markets.

Serbian territory is still being used for the transit of smuggled heroin from Turkey to western Europe. It is particularly evident in the summer season, when a large number of Turkish citizens who live and work in western Europe travel through Serbia during their summer holidays. Due to increased control of passengers at border crossing points, there are frequent seizures of heroin that is being smuggled in hollow parts of motor vehicles.

According to police data, supply and procurement of heroin for the Serbian market is mostly performed and directed through:

  • organised criminal groups from the areas of Kosovo and Metohija;
  • organised criminal groups of Albanians, for supply from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia;
  • the region of Bujanovac and Presevo;
  • the region of Novi Pazar/Tutin, as well as North of Montenegro (Rozaje).

Often the supply of heroin is organised in relatively small quantities (1 to 3 kilos). One reason for this is safety, because even if a smuggling channel is dismantled and heroin is seized, it would be a relatively small quantity and the financial loss would be small. Bearing in mind that the distances between the regions in which heroin is procured are not large, contact between the people involved in drug trafficking is relatively quickly established through face-to-face meetings when smuggling routes are re-established.

The situation in Serbia and the surrounding region has significantly changed in recent years. Among the reasons for this are the accession of neighbouring countries — Bulgaria and Romania — to the EU, as well as the separation of Kosovo and Metohija. These events have significantly changed the heroin smuggling routes used by organised criminal groups. A heroin smuggling route was directed towards so-called Schengen borders and the route Bulgaria–Romania–Hungary became used for transport to west European countries. This enables traffickers to avoid transport through Serbia and the increased checks of passengers and goods on the border from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia–Kosovo and Metohija.

These trends have had an influence on a significant decrease in the seizures of heroin in Serbia. According to information from the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia and from European police services, the territory of Kosovo and Metohija is being used for the storage of large quantities of heroin that is to be smuggled to west European countries via Albania (Durres harbour), Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Recently, the organised drug crime groups of Serbian origin have become more prominent in the trans-continental cocaine smuggling market from South America to European countries. As far as Serbia is concerned, cocaine enters the country in transit to Europe and in small quantities intended for selling on the local market. For cocaine smuggling, transatlantic cargo ships are mostly used.

Trends of increased smuggling of small quantities of cocaine have been also observed. This is related to individual cases when cocaine is smuggled on aeroplanes, concealed in suitcases or clothes. Having successfully completed their deliveries, these people then return to Serbia where they continue to live ordinary lives, and the money gained from cocaine smuggling is laundered mainly through the purchase and building of real estate. Individual cases of cocaine smuggling by post (DHL, etc.) have also been recorded. These trends were observed in 2008 and 2009, and continued in 2010, and therefore present a particular form of organised cocaine smuggling that is not detectable without timely and ongoing international cooperation.

Marijuana is still the commonest narcotic drug on the illegal market in Serbia. It is still being smuggled mostly from Albania via Montenegro, but there have recently been more and more cases of a modified type of marijuana, so-called ‘skunk’ or ‘super-marijuana’. Current trends indicate that there are cases of indoor cultivation of modified marijuana. In 2010 and early in 2011, laboratories that had been producing ‘skunk’ were detected in several locations. It is expected that the trend of indoor cultivation will continue and increase.

Regarding synthetic drugs and precursors, recent cases indicate that organised criminal groups will continue to invent modus operandi and find locations to smuggle and produce synthetic drugs in laboratories known as ‘kitchen models’. These laboratories are designed for the production of synthetic drugs, are usually installed in kitchens and utilise basic kitchen utensils and tools in the production process. One of the primary reasons for the use of ‘kitchen laboratories’ is the financial gain organised criminal groups achieve by producing various types of synthetic drugs themselves, instead of smuggling them from Scandinavia and western Europe, as was the case in the past. Producing them in Serbia reduces the risk related to trafficking and at the same time they achieve bigger profits. An increasing trend can be observed of synthetic narcotic drugs produced in Serbia being smuggled to markets in west European countries, such as Sweden, Denmark and Holland. This indicates that the direction of these narcotics has been changed only in the past 10 years. Illegal laboratories in Serbia use chemicals smuggled from the Middle East to produce synthetic drugs.

In 2010, two laboratories for the production of synthetic drugs were discovered. One of them produced amphetamine sulphate and the second produced benzyl-methyl-ketone (BMK). Both laboratories were installed in primitive so-called ‘kitchen conditions’ with little capacity for the local market. Since the laboratories were close to the border with Bulgaria, it can be assumed that the perpetrators had planned to smuggle the drugs from Serbia to Bulgaria.

Table 2: Number and quantities of seized drugs by year

Year Number of seizures Total seized drugs (g) Heroin (g) Marijuana (g) Cocaine (g) Ecstasy (g)
2008 6 187 743 862.76 207 649.14 1 477 786.80 15 091.52 207.82
2009 5 650 1 322 870.60 169 207.00 1 083 239.65 19 225.55 5 408.20
2010 5 699 1 687 998.04 242 848 1 352 775.06 7 622.57 23 459.70
2011 5 248 1 403 668.90 64 864.66 995 111.90 5 961.6 48 721.98

On the basis of operational activities on site and other intelligence information, in 2011 the prices were as follows:

  • heroin: EUR 12–16 000 per kg
  • cocaine: EUR 33–38 000 per kg
  • ‘skunk’: EUR 1 500–3 000 per kg
  • amphetamine: EUR 0.5–6 per pill
The street prices are: 1 g of heroin: EUR 20–25; 1 g of cocaine: EUR 50–110.
(All data are provided by the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Serbia.)
In 2011, according to the National Office for Statistics, 3 588 adults were sentenced for unauthorised production, possession or enabling use of drugs, while in 2010, 3 940 adults were sentenced against this legal ground.

National drug laws

The key drug laws are:
  • Law on Psychoactive Controlled Substances (The Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, 99/2010);
  • Law on Substances Used in Illicit Manufacturing of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (The Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, No 107/05), which is in accordance with UN Conventions and EU Directives;
  • Law on Medicines and Medical Devices (The Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, 84/04);
  • Criminal Code (The Official Gazette of the Republic of Serbia, No 111/2009).

According to the Criminal Code, unauthorised selling or offering of narcotic drugs for sale is punishable by three to 12 years. According to the same law, whoever unlawfully grows poppy seeds, psychoactive hemp or other plants that generate or contain narcotic drugs shall be punished by imprisonment of six months to five years. If the above-mentioned offence is committed by a group, or if the offender has organised a network of dealers or middlemen, the offender shall be punished by imprisonment of five to 15 years. The offender who discloses from whom he/she obtained narcotics may be excused from punishment. According to the same law, a person who possesses a small amount of drugs for personal use can be remitted or sentenced for imprisonment for up to three years. Possession of a small amount of illegal drugs is not legally defined. Whoever induces another person to take narcotics or gives him narcotics for his or another’s use or places at disposal premises for taking of narcotics or otherwise enables another to take narcotics, shall be punished by imprisonment of six months to five years. Illegal drug use is not allowed in any location. The laws cover all illegal drugs and penalties are the same for all substances. Penalties for the manufacturing and possession of illegal drugs are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice.

In 2010, the Law on Psychoactive Controlled Substances was adopted. This law regulates the conditions for the production of and trade in psychoactive controlled substances, conditions and procedures for issuing licenses for production, export, import and transit of controlled psychoactive substances, the conditions for cultivation, processing and trade of plants from which psychoactive controlled substances can be obtained, use of psychoactive controlled substances, monitoring of the implementation of this law and other issues in this area important for the protection of life and health.

National drug strategy

Serbia’s national drug strategy was adopted in February 2009. It covers the period 2009–13 and includes an action plan. The national strategy and action plan focus on:
  • coordination between agencies;
  • demand reduction;
  • supply reduction;
  • information, research and evaluation;
  • international cooperation and harm reduction.

From 2009 until April 2011, the Delegation of the European Commission assisted the Government of the Republic of Serbia to implement the project ‘Implementing the national strategy against drug abuse’. The main beneficiary of the project was the Ministry of Health. However, other stakeholders included the Ministries of Education, Interior, Justice, and Youth and Sport. The project, whose budget was EUR 1.5 million, supported activities relating to policies, law, health promotion and education, a mass media campaign, treatment, harm reduction and social integration (unpublished data received from the Ministry of Youth and Sport on request).

Since 2009, several important steps have been implemented to achieve the aims of the strategy, namely: (i) drafting of the Law on Controlled Psychoactive Substances; (ii) strengthening cooperation with the EMCDDA; and (iii) becoming a member of the Pompidou Group. The process of developing by-law documents had already started and a workshop on this topic was organised during which partners from different sectors gave important inputs for the development of these documents. Drafting these by-law documents is anticipated to be one of the activities within an 18-month Twining project, ‘Implementation of the strategy for the fight against drugs (supply and demand reduction components)’, launched in autumn 2012.

From June to August 2012, UNODC supported the mid-term evaluation of the national drug strategy. It presents a basic overview and is a good starting point for the process of drafting the new national drug strategy.

Coordination mechanism in the field of drugs

In 2011 the Government established the multi-sectored Committee for Psychoactive Controlled Substances, comprising a panel of experts and representatives of relevant authorities, to coordinate and build cooperation in the field, as stated in the Law on Psychoactive Controlled Substances. In the previous period this commission was very active in updating the list of psychoactive controlled substances.

Since activities in the drug field are undertaken by various sectors, within each sector a different body is responsible for carrying out monitoring. In the Ministry of Health, there are separate commissions for treatment and prevention of addictive diseases (established in 2008), for prevention of harmful use of alcohol and alcoholism and for mental health.

Although a national correspondent has been appointed for cooperation with the EMCDDA, a national focal point (i.e. national monitoring centre) has not yet been established.

The geostrategic position of the Republic of Serbia, its role and importance in the Balkans as a very significant transit area for narcotics, and the perspective of the country’s potential membership to the EU (it is currently a candidate country), impose a requirement to establish a central police unit for combating narcotics.

Drug-related research

Several drug-related research projects in Serbia have been undertaken in the past few years, mostly on prevalence of drug use among the general population and young people and among vulnerable groups at risk of HIV/AIDS.

In 2007, UNICEF implemented the ‘Rapid assessment and response’ (RAR) project among vulnerable youth in five cities in Serbia (Belgrade, Novi Sad, Subotica, Kragujevac and Nis). For the study, 420 children living on the street were interviewed and results show that almost half of them used marijuana or inhalants. In addition, in-depth interviews were conducted with 238 children most at risk of HIV/AIDS, and the study found that 68.4 % used marijuana and 18 % were IDUs.

Among those who were IDUs, 28 % reported that they shared needles.

In 2008 and 2010, within the GFATM project, the surveys among populations most at risk of HIV/AIDS, which include IDU, and among PLHIV, were conducted by the Institute of Public Health of Serbia, in cooperation with other institutes of public health, the Institute for Infectious Diseases of the Clinical Centre of Serbia, the Medical Faculty of the University of Belgrade, NGOs, institutions for drug addiction treatment, etc.

In 2010–11 NGO Veza conducted a survey on the social, medical and legal status of IDU clients. The process of data collection was carried out in two waves during 2010 and 2011 and involved 110 clients out of 1 000 clients that visited the drop-in centre during the research period. According to the results, an average client of NGO Veza is 32 years old, unemployed, and lives without elementary hygienic conditions. The majority of clients live with their parents. An absence of personal documents is a big problem for many IDUs who are in need of social and medical care and support (NGO Veza, 2011).

The results of all surveys carried out by different partners are disseminated via expert conferences, in-service training for medical staff and workshops for multisectoral audiences.


Comiskey, C., Dempsey, O. and Snel, A. (2011), ‘The prevalence of most at risk populations for HIV in Republic of Serbia’, IPH of Serbia 'Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut’, Belgrade.
Institute of Public Health of Serbia, Ministry of Health (2000), ‘Health need, health status and use of health care in Serbia’, IPH of Serbia 'Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut’, Belgrade.
Institute of Public Health of Serbia, National HIV/AIDS Office (2011), ‘Report on activities within National HIV response for the January 1–December 31 2011’, IPH of Serbia 'Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut’, Belgrade.
Ministry of Health (2006) ‘Health survey’, Ministry of Health, Republic of Serbia.
Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, Institute of Public Health of Serbia (2008a), ‘European survey on the use of alcohol and other drugs among young people in Serbia’, Institute of Public Health of Serbia 'Dr Milan Jovanovic Batut’, Belgrade.
Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia (2008b), ‘Survey among populations most at risk on HIV and among PLHIV’ (available in Serbian), Ministry of Health, Republic of Serbia.
Ministry of Health of the Republic of Serbia, IPH of Serbia (2010), ‘Survey among populations most at risk on HIV and among PLHIV’, Ministry of Health, Republic of Serbia (available in Serbian with summary in English).
Ministry of Justice Prison Administration (2011), ‘Annual report on prison administration operations’ Ministry of Justice Prison Administration, Serbia.
National Office for Statistics (2012), ‘Statistical yearbook 2011’, National Office for Statistics, Belgrade.
NGO Veza (2011), ‘Research on social, medical and legal status of IDU beneficiaries 2010/2011’, NGO Veza, Belgrade.
Strategic Marketing (2006), ‘Narcotics in Serbia’, Strategic Marketing.

Background information


This country overview has been produced by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) within its European Union financed IPA project 2011/280-057 ‘Preparation of IPA Beneficiaries for their participation with the EMCDDA’. This overview has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The views expressed herein can in no way be taken to reflect the official opinion of the European Union.

Working group

Biljana Kilibarda, DMD, specialist in social medicine
National Correspondent of EMCDDA-IPA4 2012–14 Project
Institute of Public Health of Serbia
Danijela Simic, MD, specialist in epidemiology
Head of the National HIV/AIDS Office
Institute of Public Health of Serbia
Sladjana Baros,
Monitoring and evaluation officer
National HIV/AIDS Office
Institute of Public Health of Serbia
Ivan Brandić
Head of Narcotic Drugs Law Enforcement Department
Ministry of Interior
Svetlana Vucetic Arsic, MD, Msc, specialist in neurology
Special Hospital for Drug Addiction
Ljubica Pakovic, LLB
Ministry of Health Republic of Serbia
Farida Bassioni Stamenic, MD
GFTAM Project Implementation Unit
Ministry of Health Republic of Serbia

Key national figures and statistics

1 Gross domestic product (GDP) is a measure of economic activity. It is defined as the value of all goods and services produced less the value of any goods or services used in their creation. The volume index of GDP per capita in purchasing power standards (PPS) is expressed in relation to the European Union (EU-27) average set to equal 100. If the index of a country is higher than 100, this country’s level of GDP per head is higher than the EU average and vice versa.

2 National estimates of the percentage of the population falling below the poverty line are based on surveys of sub-groups, with the results weighted by the number of people in each group. Definitions of poverty vary considerably among nations. For example, rich nations generally employ more generous standards of poverty than poor nations.

3 Unemployment rates represent unemployed persons as a percentage of total labour force (active population, employed and unemployed). Unemployed persons comprise persons aged 15 + who were: without work during the reference week; currently available for work; and actively seeking work.

4 Eurostat value for October 2012.

5 Situation of penal institutions on 1 March 2010. Prison population rate per 100 000 inhabitants.

b Break in series.

p Eurostat 2011 provisional value.

  Year Serbia EU (27 countries) Source
Surface area 2011 88 407 sq km 4 200 000 sq km National Office for Statistic Serbia
Population 2011 7 186 862 502 120 829 bp National Census 2011
Population by age classes 15–24 2009 12.4 % : National Office for Statistic Serbia
25–49 34.1 % : National Office for Statistic Serbia
50–64 21.2 % p : National Office for Statistic Serbia
GDP per capita in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) 1 2011 35 100 Eurostat
Population below poverty line 2 2010 9.2 % : CIA World factbook
Unemployment rate 3 April 2012 25.5 % 10.7 %  4 National Office for Statistic Serbia
Prison population rate (per 100 000 inhabitants) 5 2010 153.2   Council of Europe, SPACE I-2010

National publications

You can find below links to key national publications.

Additional sources of national information

In addition to the information provided above, you might find the following resources useful sources of national data.


Page last updated: Thursday, 14 April 2016