Speech by Alexis Goosdeel at National Drugs Coordinators’ meeting, Dutch Presidency

Alexis Goosdeel giving speech in Amsterdam

EMCDDA Director, Alexis Goosdeel, attended the EU National Drugs Coordinators' meeting on 'Drugs and Nightlife' in Amsterdam, where he presented his views on developing efficient interventions for recreational drug use.

Speech transcript

Dear Minister,
Dear Chair,
Dear Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would first of all like to thank the Minister and the Dutch Presidency for this second invitation following the invitation to make a presentation at the side-event on ‘Evidence-based drug policies’ that took place at the UNGASS 2016 in New York one week ago.

What I want to do here today is to share with you a few reflections and a few ideas on the challenges and perspectives that we have in front of us as far as developing efficient demand reduction interventions are concerned.

As this is an introduction to the meeting that is dedicated to ‘Drugs and Nightlife’, I will focus my presentation on recreational drug use.

In that perspective, I would like to highlight five topics that I believe are going to be relevant, or to remain relevant, for policy-making on drugs in the coming years.

  1. Cannabis remains an important challenge, not only because it is the main drug used in the EU and by the larger number of citizens, but because of the changes that we are detecting on the market: the herbal cannabis produced in Europe seems to have exceeded the cannabis resin produced in Morocco, which in turn has stimulated the producers of hashish to select varieties of cannabis with stronger concentration of THC. We don’t know yet the potential impact on health for the users; this needs to be carefully monitored, and interventions will need to be adapted.
  2. MDMA is making a remarkable comeback on the European market, although in a different context and apparently for a new profile of consumers, with products being sold showing a much higher concentration of the active substance. Other synthetic drugs are being used in a new and more complex association with other substances in the context of what is called ‘chemsex’, and are raising new issues in terms of potential risks for health.
  3. The experimental and recreational use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) does not show any sign of slowing down, and in some countries, some categories or groups of substances such as cathinones are changing status on the market. Some of the interventions that are going to be presented during this meeting are addressing the need for developing new harm-reduction interventions.
  4. The development of internet and of virtual markets changes the dynamics of the selling and buying process, potentially opening up the market to a wider audience and to a broader group of substances. Indeed, drug markets operating on the internet appear to be primarily associated with the distribution of either non-controlled substances or substances for which legal controls differ between countries and jurisdictions (medicines, lifestyle products, new psychoactive substances, precursor chemicals).
  5. New cannabis policies in other parts of the world are putting some pressure on the whole UN conventions system, and although it is certainly premature to make any guess about possible future developments, it is important to carefully observe the possible side-effects on the European situation, both from the perspective of demand and supply reduction.

As requested, I would like to summarise the lessons learned from the European experience, and as I did in New York I would propose 5 ‘I’s’:

  • Information: A renewed monitoring model is operational that combines different tools and methods in what we call ‘contemporary approaches’ of the monitoring of the drugs situation. To remain policy relevant, the monitoring and the analysis of the drug phenomenon need to integrate information coming from different sources, like for instance what we have done for the analysis of the European drug market.
  • Interventions are being increasingly supported by a corpus of scientific evidence, for instance on treatment, harm reduction and prevention. It is now important to disseminate and to make more systematic use of that knowledge for the design, implementation and evaluation of demand-reduction interventions.
  • Implications for the future: Over the last 20 years, European and national policies have integrated, in one way or another, a harm reduction dimension that clearly contributed to reducing the negative impact of drug use on society. It would be useful to draw the lessons from that experience at macro level and to identify some general principles (not linked to a single substance such as heroin) that could help the EU and the Member States to address any forthcoming drug problem.
  • Inclusion of a broader set of issues, to support our understanding of what makes an effective intervention: for example the re-emergence of MDMA in a different context than that of the early nineties, the appearance of ‘chemsex’, or the unclear relationship between drug trafficking and radicalisation. This suggests that there is a need for integration of approaches and interventions that up until now have remained specific and fragmented.
  • Innovation and imagination: The drug phenomenon has become very versatile and reveals a very dynamic capacity to adapt to change in its geographic, human, institutional, technological, regulatory and legal environment. So too has our monitoring, that has expanded to include toxicology, forensic data, open source data, and that is developing new methods to produce, for example, an estimate of the size of the drug market in Europe. This capacity for innovation remains a sine qua non for the production of new scientific evidence and also for imagining what the future might look like. This is why the EMCDDA will launch next year a Foresight exercise on ‘Drugs in Europe in 2030’.

More concretely, I announce with pleasure that I have signed the decision for integrating the Healthy Nightlife Toolbox into our website and that it will be running before the end of this year.

Dear Minister, dear Chair, dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I believe that this meeting will give to the discussion a concrete and pragmatic dimension that is one of the main characteristics of the Dutch approach on drug policy and that will further support the reflection of the EU Member States and of EU Institutions in this important policy area.

Thank you very much for your attention.        

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