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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2008 (or the last year available).

 
 

Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Amphetamines, ecstasy and hallucinogenic substances

Published: 10 November 2010

Prevalence and patterns of use

Relatively high levels of amphetamines or ecstasy use among the general population are reported by some EU Member States (Czech Republic, Estonia, United Kingdom). In a few countries, the use of amphetamine or methamphetamine, often by injection, accounts for a substantial proportion of the overall number of problem drug users and those seeking help for drug problems. In contrast to these chronic user populations, a more general association exists between the use of synthetic drugs, ecstasy in particular, and nightclubs and dance events. This results in significantly higher levels of use being reported among young people, and exceedingly high levels of use being found in some settings or specific sub-populations. The overall consumption levels of hallucinogenic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and hallucinogenic mushrooms are generally low and have been largely stable in recent years.

Amphetamines

Drug prevalence estimates suggest that about 12 million Europeans have tried amphetamines, and about 2 million have used the drug during the last year (see 'Table 5: Prevalence of amphetamines use in the general population — summary of the data' for a summary of the data).

Among young adults (15–34 years), lifetime prevalence of amphetamines use varies considerably between countries, from 0.1 % to 15.4 %, with a weighted European average of 5.2 %. Last year use of amphetamines in this age group ranges from 0.1 % to 3.2 %, with most countries reporting prevalence levels of 0.5–2.0 %. It is estimated that about 1.5 million (1.2 %) young Europeans have used amphetamines during the last year.

Among 15- to 16-year-old school students, lifetime prevalence of amphetamines use ranged from 1 % to 8 % in the 26 EU Member States, Norway and Croatia, surveyed in 2007, though prevalence levels of more than 5 % were reported only for Bulgaria, Latvia (both 6 %) and Austria (8 %). The five countries that conducted school surveys in 2008 (Belgium-Flemish Community, Spain, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom) reported lifetime prevalence of amphetamines of 3 % or less (1).

Table 5: Prevalence of amphetamines use in the general population — summary of the data

Age group

Time frame of use

Lifetime

Last year

European prevalence estimates are based on weighted averages from the most recent national surveys conducted from 2001 to 2008/09 (mainly 2004–08), and therefore cannot be attached to a single year. The average prevalence for Europe was computed by a weighted average according to the population of the relevant age group in each country. In countries for which no information was available, the average EU prevalence was imputed. Populations used as basis: 15–64 (334 million) and 15–34 (133 million). The data summarised here are available under ‘General population surveys’ in the 2010 statistical bulletin..

15–64 years Estimated number of users in Europe 12 million 2 million
European average 3.7 % 0.6 %
Range 0.0–12.3 % 0.0–1.7 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania (0.0 %)
Greece (0.1 %)
Malta (0.4 %)
Cyprus (0.8 %)  
Romania, Malta, Greece (0.0 %)
France (0.1 %)
Portugal (0.2 %)  
Highest-prevalence countries United Kingdom (12.3 %)
Denmark (6.3 %)
Sweden (5.0 %)
Czech Republic (4.3 %)  
Czech Republic (1.7 %)
United Kingdom, Denmark (1.2 %)
Norway, Estonia (1.1 %)  
15–34 years Estimated number of users in Europe 7 million 1.5 million
European average 5.2 % 1.2 %
Range 0.1–15.4 % 0.1–3.2 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania (0.1 %)
Greece (0.2 %)
Malta (0.7 %)
Cyprus (0.8 %)
Romania, Greece (0.1 %)
France (0.2 %)
Cyprus (0.3 %)
Portugal (0.4 %)
Highest-prevalence countries United Kingdom (15.4 %)
Denmark (10.5 %)
Czech Republic (7.8 %)
Latvia (6.1 %)  
Czech Republic (3.2 %)
Denmark (3.1 %)
Estonia (2.5 %)
United Kingdom (2.3 %)

Problem amphetamine use

The EMCDDA indicator on problem drug use can be applied to amphetamine use, where it defines as such the injecting or long duration and/or regular use of the substance. Finland has provided the most recent national estimate of problem amphetamine users, estimated at between 12 000 and 22 000 in 2005, which is about four times the estimated number of problem opioid users in the country.

The proportion of drug users that reported entering treatment for use of amphetamine as the primary drug is relatively small (less than 5 %), in most European countries (18 out of 27 reporting countries), but accounts for a sizeable proportion of reported treatment entries in Sweden (32 %), Finland (20 %) and Latvia (15 %). Five other countries (Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands) report between 6 % and 10 % of treatment entries from clients citing amphetamine as their primary drug; elsewhere the proportion is less than 5 %. Amphetamine is also reported as a secondary drug by other treatment clients (2).

Amphetamine users entering treatment are, on average, about 30 years old, with inpatients being younger (28 years). The male to female ratio among amphetamine clients (2:1) is lower than that for any other illicit drug. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden and Finland all report relatively high levels of injecting among primary amphetamine clients, ranging from 57 % to 82 % (3).

Trends in amphetamine users entering treatment between 2003 and 2008 have remained broadly stable in most countries (4).

Problem methamphetamine use

In contrast to other parts of the world, where the use of methamphetamine has increased in recent years, levels of use in Europe appear limited. Historically, use of this drug in Europe has been concentrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 2008, the number of problem methamphetamine users in the Czech Republic was estimated to be approximately 20 700–21 800 (2.8 to 2.9 cases per 1 000 aged 15–64 years), roughly twice the estimated number of problem opioid users. For Slovakia, there were estimated to be approximately 5 800–15 700 problem methamphetamine users in 2007 (1.5 to 4.0 cases per 1 000 aged 15–64 years), about 20 % fewer than the estimated number of problem opioid users. Recently, methamphetamine has appeared on the drug market in other countries, especially in the north of Europe (Norway, Sweden, Latvia and, to a lesser extent, Finland), where it seems to partially replace amphetamine, being virtually indistinguishable from it to the users. In Europe, problem methamphetamine users typically inject or snort the drug. Smoking is rarely reported, again in contrast to other parts of the world.

Methamphetamine is reported as the primary drug by a large proportion of clients entering treatment in the Czech Republic (59 %) and Slovakia (29 %). Injecting is reported as the main route of drug administration by 80 % of methamphetamine clients in the Czech Republic and 36 % in Slovakia (5). Use of other drugs is also often reported, mainly heroin, cannabis and alcohol. Both countries report that the use of methamphetamine as a secondary substance is common, especially among people in substitution treatment.

Methamphetamine users entering treatment in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are relatively young, on average 25–26 years. The Czech Republic reports that the number of women entering treatment for primary methamphetamine use is increasing, especially among the younger age groups. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of first-time treatment entrants for problems relating to methamphetamine has been increasing in both countries (6).

Ecstasy

Ecstasy use is concentrated among younger adults, with males reporting levels of use much higher than females in all countries except Sweden and Finland. Of the approximately 2.5 million (0.8 %) European adults who used ecstasy in the last year, virtually all are in the 15–34 age group (see 'Table 6: Prevalence of ecstasy use in the general population — summary of the data' for a summary of the data). Still higher levels of ecstasy use are found among the 15–24 age group, where lifetime prevalence ranges from under 1 % in Greece and Romania to 20.8 % in the Czech Republic, followed by Slovakia and the United Kingdom (both 9.9 %) and Latvia (9.4 %), though most countries report estimates in the 2.1–6.8 % range (7). Last year use of ecstasy among this age group is estimated at between 1.0 % and 3.7 % in the majority of countries, though there is a considerable difference between the lowest national estimate at 0.3 % and the highest at 11.3 %.

Among 15- to 16-year-old school students, lifetime prevalence of ecstasy use ranged from 1 % to 5 % in most of the EU countries surveyed in 2007. Only four countries reported higher prevalence levels: Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovakia (all 6 %) and Latvia (7 %). The five countries that conducted school surveys in 2008 (Belgium-Flemish Community, Spain, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom) reported lifetime prevalence of ecstasy use of 4 % or less (8).

Few drug users seek treatment for problems relating to ecstasy. In 2008, ecstasy was mentioned as the primary drug by less than 1 % of treatment entrants in 21 of the 27 reporting countries. Elsewhere, the proportion varied between 1 % and 3 %. With an average age of 24 years, ecstasy clients are among the youngest entering drug treatment. There are 2–3 males for every female entering treatment. Ecstasy clients often report the concomitant use of other substances, including alcohol, cocaine and, to a lesser extent, cannabis and amphetamines (9).

Table 6: Prevalence of ecstasy use in the general population — summary of the data

Age group

Time frame of use

Lifetime

Last year

European prevalence estimates are based on weighted averages from the most recent national surveys conducted from 2001 to 2008/09 (mainly 2004–08), and therefore cannot be attached to a single year. The average prevalence for Europe was computed by a weighted average according to the population of the relevant age group in each country. In countries for which no information was available, the average EU prevalence was imputed. Populations used as basis: 15–64 (334 million) and 15–34 (133 million). The data summarised here are available under ‘General population surveys’ in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

15–64 years Estimated number of users in Europe 11 million 2.5 million
European average 3.3 % 0.8 %
Range 0.3–9.6 % 0.1–3.7 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania (0.3 %)
Greece (0.4 %)
Malta (0.7 %)
Poland (1.2 %)
Romania, Sweden (0.1 %)
Malta, Greece (0.2 %)
Poland (0.3 %)
Highest-prevalence countries Czech Republic (9.6 %)
United Kingdom (8.6 %)
Ireland (5.4 %)
Latvia (4.7 %)
Czech Republic (3.7 %)
United Kingdom (1.8 %)
Slovakia (1.6 %)
Latvia (1.5 %)  
15–34 years Estimated number of users in Europe 8 million 2.5 million
European average 5.8 % 1.7 %
Range 0.6–18.4 % 0.2–7.7 %
Lowest-prevalence countries Romania, Greece (0.6 %)
Malta (1.4 %)
Poland (2.1 %)
Cyprus (2.4 %)
Romania, Sweden (0.2 %)
Greece (0.4 %)
Poland (0.7 %)
Highest-prevalence countries Czech Republic (18.4 %)
United Kingdom (13.8 %)
Ireland (9.0 %)
Latvia (8.5 %)
Czech Republic (7.7 %)
United Kingdom (3.9 %)
Slovakia, Latvia, Netherlands (2.7 %)

LSD and hallucinogenic mushrooms

Among young adults (15–34 years), lifetime prevalence estimates of LSD use range from zero to 6.1 %, with the exception of the Czech Republic where a 2008 drug survey reported a higher prevalence (10.3 %). Much lower prevalence ranges are reported for last year use (10).

In the few countries providing comparable data, the use of LSD is usually exceeded by that of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Lifetime prevalence estimates for hallucinogenic mushrooms among young adults range from 0.3 % to 14.1 %, and last year prevalence estimates are in the range of 0.2–5.9 %.

Among 15- to 16-year-old school students, prevalence estimates for the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms are higher than those for LSD and other hallucinogens in ten of the 26 countries providing data on these substances. Most countries report lifetime prevalence estimates for the use of hallucinogenic mushrooms of between 1 % and 4 %, with Slovakia (5 %) and the Czech Republic (7 %) reporting higher levels (11).

Trends in the use of amphetamines and ecstasy

The stabilising trends in amphetamines and ecstasy use in Europe, noted in previous reports, are supported by the most recent data. After general increases in the 1990s, population surveys now point to an overall stabilisation in the popularity of both drugs, although recent increases are seen in a few countries. National trends in general population surveys may, however, not reflect trends in stimulant use at the local level or among different sub-populations. Targeted surveys in nightlife settings suggest that the prevalence and patterns of stimulant drug use together with alcohol remain high, with some studies suggesting that drug use patterns among club-goers are becoming increasingly polarised from those in the general population (Measham and Moore, 2009). In contrast, observations made in Germany recently indicate that substance use in the clubbing scene is on the decline in that country.

In the United Kingdom, last year use of amphetamines among young adults (15–34) declined from 6.2 % in 1998 to 2.3 % in 2008–09. In Denmark, it increased from 0.5 % in 1994 to 3.1 % in 2000 and stabilised thereafter (12). Among the other countries reporting repeated surveys over a similar time span (Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Netherlands, Slovakia, Finland), the trends are largely stable ('Figure 6: Trends in last year prevalence of use of amphetamines and ecstasy among young adults (aged 15–34)'). During the period 2003–08, of the 11 countries with sufficient data on last year prevalence of amphetamines use among the 15–34 age group, only two report a change of more than one percentage point (Bulgaria, from 0.9 % in 2005 to 2.1 % in 2008; and the Czech Republic, from 1.5 % in 2004 to 3.2 % in 2008).

In countries reporting higher than average levels of ecstasy use, use of the drug among 15- to 34-year-olds typically peaked at somewhere between 3 % and 5 % in the early 2000s (Estonia, Spain, Slovakia, United Kingdom; see 'Figure 6: Trends in last year prevalence of use of amphetamines and ecstasy among young adults (aged 15–34)'). An exception to this is the Czech Republic, where it is estimated that 7.7 % of the 15–34 age group have used ecstasy in the last year, with an upward trend over the period 2003–08. Over this period, most other countries report a stable trend, with the exception of Estonia and Hungary, where last year prevalence of ecstasy use among young adults increased during the early 2000s and has since decreased.

In eight countries (Denmark, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy, Austria, Portugal, United Kingdom), the most recent surveys show that last year cocaine use now exceeds the use of amphetamine and ecstasy among young adults.

School surveys conducted in 2007 (ESPAD) and 2008 suggest, overall, little change in the levels of experimentation with amphetamines and ecstasy among students aged 15 to 16 years. Considering differences of at least two percentage points between 2003 and 2007, lifetime prevalence of amphetamines use increased in nine countries. By the same measure, ecstasy use increased in seven countries. A decrease in lifetime prevalence of amphetamines use was observed only in Estonia and Italy, while the Czech Republic, Portugal and Croatia reported a decrease in ecstasy use. The remaining countries report a stable trend.

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Footnotes

(1) See Table EYE-11 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(2) See Tables TDI-5 (part ii) and TDI-22 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(3) See Tables TDI-5 (part iv) and TDI-37 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(4) See the 2010 Selected issue on problem amphetamine and methamphetamine use for a full analysis.

(5) See Table TDI-5 (part ii) and (part iv) in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(6) See Table TDI-3 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(7) See Table GPS-7 (part iv) in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(8) See Table EYE-11 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(9) See Tables TDI-5 and TDI-37 (part i), (part ii) and (part iii) in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(10) See Table GPS-1 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(11) Data from ESPAD for all countries but Spain. See Figure EYE-2 (part v) in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(12) In Denmark, the information for 1994 refers to ‘hard drugs’, which was considered mainly amphetamines.

Bibliographic references

Measham, F. and Moore, K. (2009), ‘Repertoires of distinction: exploring patterns of weekend polydrug use within local leisure scenes across the English night time economy’, Criminology and Criminal Justice 9, pp. 437–64.

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 26 October 2010