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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
Policies and laws

National drug strategies

New developments

Drug strategies and action plans are now core instruments of national drug policies in Europe. Almost all of the 30 countries monitored by the EMCDDA have adopted such policy documents, which they renew periodically. In 2009, new drug strategies or action plans were adopted by seven European countries (see Table 1: Drug policy documents adopted in 2009), while a further 12 were drafting new national drug policy documents in early 2010 (1).

Table 1: Drug policy documents adopted in 2009
Country Name of policy document Time span Scope Notes

Sources: Reitox national focal points.

Bulgaria National strategy for the fight against drugs 2009–13 Illicit drugs Complemented by an action plan (2009–13)
Ireland National drugs strategy — interim 2009–16 Illicit drugs Will be replaced by a substance misuse strategy also covering alcohol
Spain National drug strategy 2009–16 Illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco Complemented by an action plan (2009–12)
Cyprus National strategy on drugs 2009–12 Illicit drugs  
Hungary National strategy for tackling the drugs problem 2010–18 Illicit drugs Will be complemented by action plans
Slovakia National anti-drug strategy 2009–18 Illicit drugs Will be complemented by action plans
Croatia Action plan on combating narcotic drugs 2009–12 Illicit drugs Second action plan under the national strategy 2006–12

Challenges in renewing drug policy documents

Several countries have recently reported a delay in the renewal of their national drug policy documents (2). Five of the countries whose drug strategy or action plan expired in December 2008 had yet to adopt new documents one year later (Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania). Similarly, another set of countries with policy documents ending in 2009 had not renewed them during that year. As a result, for the first time since the mid-1990s, Europe is seeing a decrease in the number of countries with a valid national drug strategy or action plan.

The renewal of drug policy documents is a complex process comprising several steps. First, there is the final evaluation of the existing or recently expired strategy or action plan (3). Stakeholders, and sometimes the public, are also consulted during the development phase of the new policy. As drug strategies and action plans coordinate the role of various government departments, writing them usually involves the submission of successive drafts to different ministries. Finally, the policy documents must be approved by the government or parliament. Recent reports suggest that it can take between six months and two years to complete the whole process. Against this, the time span for national drug policy documents is generally in the range of four to eight years. This implies that the renewal process, in order to be timely, should sometimes be started shortly after mid-term, or at least several months before the expiry of the existing policy document. Final evaluations, however, cannot be performed until the strategy or action plan is finished, and possibly even later, when its impact might be assessed with epidemiological and other data.

The European Union and several European countries have recently faced the challenge of performing almost simultaneously both the final evaluation of an existing policy document and the drafting of its replacement. As the situation is likely to occur again in the coming years, some suggestions have been made to handle it differently in the future. One is to insert a transitional year between two successive plans or strategies, dedicated to evaluation and policy renewal.

Links between drugs and alcohol strategies

The use of multiple substances — polydrug use — is widespread among European drug users, and almost all patterns of polydrug use include alcohol (EMCDDA, 2009d). Professionals in the fields of prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reintegration are familiar with the overlap between drugs and alcohol problems, and have worked towards finding practical solutions that address both issues simultaneously. At policy level, however, the situation appears to be more complex (Muscat, 2008).

A review of both drug strategies and alcohol strategies in Europe shows many different national situations including: no national strategy at all, a strategy for illicit drugs but none for alcohol, separate strategies for drugs and alcohol, two interlinked strategies, and a policy document covering both illicit drugs and alcohol. There is also no clear shift towards one of these models. While many countries now seem to adopt an alcohol strategy (European Commission, 2009) in addition to their drug strategy, other countries have enlarged the scope of their drug policy document; an example being Ireland’s decision to include alcohol in a new substance misuse strategy.

The absence of a shared European model and trend reflects the multiple issues that governments have to consider when drawing up strategies on substance use. Reasons for keeping strategies separate include the need to address specifically problems related to alcohol, which are often of a different magnitude to those caused by illicit drugs, or simply acknowledging the legal boundaries between licit and illicit drugs. Conversely, the importance of alcohol use among illicit drug users or the need to adopt public health approaches focusing on lifestyles and behaviours, and not on individual substances, call for a combined strategy. These conflicting issues have led some countries to develop pragmatic solutions, such as linking separate drugs and alcohol strategies through an overarching public health strategy or through a single national drugs and alcohol coordination body (e.g. Portugal). Future work in this area will be to assess the qualities of different models of linking drugs and alcohol strategies in Europe.

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(1) Czech Republic, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey.

(2) The term ‘national drug-policy document’ means any official document approved by a government that defines general principles and specific interventions or objectives in the field of drugs, where officially represented as a drug strategy, action plan, programme or other policy document.

(3) See the box ‘Evaluating national drug strategies and action plans’.

Bibliographic references

Muscat, R. (Ed.) (2008), From a policy on illegal drugs to a policy on psychoactive substances, Council of Europe Publishing, Strasbourg.

European Commission (2009), First progress report on the implementation of the EU alcohol strategy (available online).


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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: Monday, 25 October 2010