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Drugnet Europe News from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction — October–December 2007

Europe risks failing to meet targets to reduce drug-related deaths

Overdose is a major cause of preventable death among young Europeans, yet latest European data show that levels of drug-related deaths are historically high and no longer falling, underlining the need for policy-makers to pay more attention to this issue. Reducing drug-related deaths is a specific target of the current EU drugs action plan (2005–2008).

The 2007 Annual report estimates that there were between 7 000 and 8 000 drug-related deaths in the EU and Norway in 2005, mainly associated with opioid use. Recent rises in deaths have been recorded in several countries, with clear increases of over 30% in: Greece (2003–2005), Austria (2002–2005), Portugal (2003–2005) and Finland (2002–2004).

Drug-related deaths in the EU and Norway fell by 6% in 2001, by 14% in 2002 and by 5% in 2003, following sharp increases in the 1980s and early 1990s and steady increases from the late 1990s to 2000. The significant downward trend in deaths between 2000 and 2003 was noted to be faltering in last year’s Annual report, following a small rise in drug-related deaths between 2003 and 2004.

Europe still lacks a comprehensive approach to overdose prevention

Whereas escalating heroin use and injecting were the probable causes of the previous rises in deaths, this is not the case today where heroin use in Europe appears mostly stable. 'There is an urgent need to research why drug-related deaths remain so high', said EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz. Risk factors that could be contributing to the problem include more polydrug use by opioid users and rises in heroin availability.

An estimated 6 610 tonnes of opium were produced in 2006 — 92% in Afghanistan. Global potential of heroin production was estimated at 606 tonnes in 2006, up from 472 tonnes the previous year (UNODC, 2007). While the impact of record opium production is not yet seen in European heroin consumption figures, the report warns: 'The sustainability of the general stable or improving situation seen in heroin use in Europe is called into question by increasing opium production in Afghanistan'.

Measures that can contribute to reducing drug-related deaths and mortality include: easier access to treatment; first aid training for drug users on responding in an emergency; and training for treatment staff in addressing the risks of polydrug use. But according to the report: 'Europe still lacks a comprehensive approach to overdose prevention'.

According to Wolfgang Götz: 'Over 7 000 lives lost a year is compelling indication that we are not getting it right when it comes to overdose prevention in Europe. We have made real progress when it comes to HIV reduction among drug users. We now need to match this with equally effective actions to reduce drug-related deaths. This will require innovation, determination and vision, and ultimately the commitment of policy-makers to invest in overdose reduction programmes'.

Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.

Page last updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008