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Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Foreword, acknowledgements and introductory note

Published: 10 November 2010

Foreword

We are proud to present this, the fifteenth, annual report on the state of the drugs problem in Europe. The analysis included here is built on the data collected by the Reitox network of national focal points, working closely with their national experts. The report benefits from our collaboration with the European Commission, Europol, the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

In this year’s report, as ever, you will find a comprehensive overview of Europe’s drug problem and the measures being taken to tackle it. However, our task goes beyond simply reporting statistics. The report is guided by the need to identify and share best practice and to ensure that evidence-based interventions are supported. This imperative applies equally to actions targeting the supply of drugs and to those targeting demand. Reading this report, it is clear that we now have a better understanding of what works, and that Europe has made great advances in some areas. Despite this, approaches lacking a sound foundation for their efficacy still attract funding. With the current pressures on the public purse, there is a heightened need to ensure that public funds are wisely spent. Here, our role is to provide a neutral and dispassionate assessment of the evidence base for interventions.

Though focused on Europe, the report repeatedly acknowledges the global nature of the drugs problem. You will read, for example, about the growing and severe drug-related problems now faced by many of our neighbouring countries. These are not just public health disasters for the countries concerned; by undermining social development and feeding corruption and organised crime they represent a real threat for the European Union. Europe is committed to a balanced and evidence-based drugs policy supported by a sound understanding of the problem. We are proud that the European model for developing national drug information systems is becoming increasingly influential. And we are pleased to report on the EMCDDA’s growing role in European initiatives to assist non-EU countries in developing capacity in this respect.

The estimated one million people now in drug treatment testifies to the work that has been done to ensure that care is made available to those in need. At the same time, it is a reminder of the scale of the problem that Europe continues to face. Opioid substitution treatment remains the biggest sector in this area, and here the mood appears to be changing, with questions being asked about the long-term outcomes of those in care. These are important questions, but it is also important to recognise the public health and social benefits delivered by increased treatment provision.

The increase in treatment availability is a positive finding, but large inequalities in access to care still exist across Europe. In practice, treatment is sometimes least available to those who need it most. This inequality is not just geographical. This year’s report explores the importance of the prison setting for targeting those with drug problems. While some progress has been made in this setting, too often a valuable opportunity to intervene with a key group of problem drug users is being lost.

We deliver this report to you at a difficult time. The current economic situation presents EU Member States with pressing challenges, and the implications for levels of drug use and service provision need to be carefully assessed. It is too early to predict what impact the economic crisis will have on drug use in Europe — but we know that marginalised and socially disadvantaged communities are the hardest hit by drug problems. Services for drug users are increasingly threatened by budget cuts, which could have a detrimental effect, not only on those who use drugs, but also on the communities in which they live. But this is not the only challenge facing Europe in the drugs field. Changes in the supply of established drugs and the emergence of new substances increasingly test our drug control models. The problems presented by these changes are complex and interconnected. They will require a concerted and collective response. The positive message from this report is that Europe is improving its capacity to keep track of this fast-moving phenomenon. This is a critical prerequisite to understanding the challenges now confronting us and to ensuring that our policy responses keep pace with an evolving drug situation.

João Goulão
Chairman, EMCDDA Management Board

Wolfgang Götz
Director, EMCDDA

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Acknowledgements

The EMCDDA would like to thank the following for their help in producing this report:

  • the heads of the Reitox national focal points and their staff;
  • the services within each Member State that collected the raw data for this report;
  • the members of the Management Board and the Scientific Committee of the EMCDDA;
  • the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union — in particular its Horizontal Working Party on Drugs — and the European Commission;
  • the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) and Europol;
  • the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the WHO Regional Office for Europe, Interpol, the World Customs Organisation, the ESPAD project and the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and other Drugs (CAN);
  • the Translation Centre for Bodies of the European Union and the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Reitox national focal points

Reitox is the European information network on drugs and drug addiction. The network is comprised of national focal points in the EU Member States, Norway, the candidate countries and at the European Commission. Under the responsibility of their governments, the focal points are the national authorities providing drug information to the EMCDDA.

The contact details of the national focal points may be found on the EMCDDA website.

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Introductory note

This annual report is based on information provided to the EMCDDA by the EU Member States, the candidate countries Croatia and Turkey, and Norway in the form of a national report. The statistical data reported here relate to the year 2008 (or the last year available). Graphics and tables in this report may reflect a subset of EU countries; the selection may be made on the basis of those countries from which data are available for the period of interest, or to highlight certain trends.

Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. Figures for 2007 may substitute for missing 2008 values in trend analysis of drug market data; for the analysis of other trends, missing data may be interpolated.

Background information and a number of caveats that should be borne in mind when reading the annual report are presented below.

Drug supply and availability data

Systematic and routine information to describe illicit drug markets and trafficking is still limited. Production estimates of heroin, cocaine and cannabis are obtained from cultivation estimates based on fieldwork (sampling on the ground) and aerial or satellite surveys. These estimates have some important limitations, linked for instance with variations in yield figures or with the difficulty of monitoring crops such as cannabis, which may be grown indoors or are not restricted to certain geographical areas.

Drug seizures are often considered as an indirect indicator of the supply, trafficking routes and availability of drugs. They are a more direct indicator of drug law enforcement activities (e.g. priorities, resources, strategies), while also reflecting both reporting practices and the vulnerability of traffickers. Data on purity or potency and retail prices of illicit drugs may also be analysed in order to understand retail drug markets. Retail prices of drugs reported to the EMCDDA reflect the price to the user. Trends in price are adjusted for inflation at national level. Reports on purity or potency, from most countries, are based on a sample of all drugs seized, and it is generally not possible to relate the reported data to a specific level of the drug market. For purity or potency and retail prices, analyses are based on the reported mean or mode or, in their absence, the median. The availability of price and purity data may be limited in some countries and there may be questions of reliability and comparability.

The EMCDDA collects national data on drug seizures, purity and retail prices in Europe. Other data on drug supply comes from UNODC’s information systems and analyses, complemented by additional information from Europol. Information on drug precursors is obtained from the European Commission, which collects data on seizures of these substances in the EU, and the INCB, which is involved in international initiatives to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals used in the manufacture of illicit drugs.

The data and estimates presented in this report are the best approximations available, but must be interpreted with caution, as many parts of the world still lack sophisticated information systems related to drug supply.

Prevalence of drug use as measured by general population surveys

Drug use in the general or school population can be measured through representative surveys, which provide estimates of the proportion of individuals that report having used specific drugs over defined periods of time. Surveys also provide useful contextual information on patterns of use, sociodemographic characteristics of users and perceptions of risks and availability.

The EMCDDA, in close collaboration with national experts, has developed a set of core items for use in adult surveys (the ‘European Model Questionnaire’, EMQ). This protocol has now been implemented in most EU Member States. However, there are still differences in the methodology used and year of data collection, and this means that small differences, in particular between countries, should be interpreted with caution.

Surveys are expensive to conduct and few European countries collect information each year, although many collect it at intervals of two to four years. In this report, data is presented based on the most recent survey available in each country, which in most cases is between 2005 and 2008. Prevalence data for the United Kingdom refer to England and Wales, unless otherwise stated, although separate data for Scotland and Northern Ireland are also available.

Of the three standard time frames used for reporting survey data, lifetime prevalence (use of a drug at any point in one’s life) is the broadest. This measure does not reflect the current drug use situation among adults, but can be helpful to understand patterns of use and incidence. For adults, the EMCDDA’s standard age ranges are 15–64 years (all adults) and 15–34 years (young adults). Countries using different upper or lower age limits include: Denmark (16), Germany (18), Hungary (18), Malta (18), Sweden (16) and the United Kingdom (16–59). The focus is on the last year and last month time frames (use during the last 12 months or last 30 days before the survey) (for more information, see the EMCDDA website). For school students, lifetime and last year prevalence are similar, as illicit drug use before age 15 is rare.

The European school survey project on alcohol and other drugs (ESPAD) uses standardised methods and instruments to measure drug and alcohol use among representative samples of 15- to 16-year-old school students. Surveys have been conducted in 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007. In 2007, data were collected in 35 countries, including 25 EU Member States, Norway and Croatia.

Treatment demand

In reports on treatment demand, ‘new clients’ refers to those who have entered treatment for the first time in their lives and ‘all clients’ refers to all those entering treatment. Clients in continuous treatment at the start of the year in question are not included in the data. Where the proportion of treatment demands for a primary drug is given, the denominator is the number of cases for which the primary drug is known.

Interventions

Information on the availability and provision of various interventions in Europe is generally based on the informed judgement of national experts, collected through structured questionnaires. However, for some indicators, quantitative monitoring data are also available.

Drug law offences

The term ‘reports’ for drug law offences may describe different concepts in different countries.

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About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU’s decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Friday, 15 October 2010