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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

Published: 10 November 2010

Public expenditure and social costs

Public expenditure on all aspects of the drugs phenomenon in Europe was estimated at EUR 34 billion in 2005 (EMCDDA, 2008). This figure includes ‘labelled’ expenditure, which is planned by government for tasks related to drugs and identified as such in the budget. Labelled expenditure is traced in official accountancy documents. The greater part of drug-related public expenditure is, however, ‘unlabelled’ — that is, not identified as such in the national budget. Unlabelled expenditure must be estimated by a cost-modelling approach.

Data for different years are only available for labelled expenditures. In 2008, 22 EU Member States reported a total labelled expenditure on the drugs problem of EUR 4.2 billion. For the 16 countries that reported in both 2005 and 2008, total labelled public expenditure rose from EUR 2.10 billion to EUR 2.25 billion. As a proportion of gross domestic product, total labelled expenditure decreased in nine countries, increased in six countries, and remained unchanged in one country (1).

Public expenditure related to drugs can be classified according to the international classification of the functions of government (COFOG) system. Of the total labelled expenditure categorised by seven reporting countries (EUR 1.82 billion), most came within two government functions: health (60 %) and public order and safety (34 %) (that is, police services, law courts, prisons). This imbalance can be explained by the fact that expenditure on public order and safety tends to be embedded in broader and more general programmes of action against crime (unlabelled expenditure) (EMCDDA, 2008).

Social costs of drug use

Determining the social cost of drug use reveals the amount that would be saved if drug use were abolished, and identifies the different components of cost and the size of the contribution of each sector in society. This information can help to determine funding priorities. Public expenditure is a fraction of social costs, in the form of direct costs only from the general government perspective. Social costs also include indirect costs (e.g. loss of productivity due to morbidity and mortality), and costs from private stakeholders (e.g. private health care).

Social cost studies are time-consuming and expensive. For this reason, information on the social costs of drug use in Europe is scarce. Recent estimates of the social costs of drugs have been made for Finland and the United Kingdom (Scotland). Direct costs related to the use of illicit drugs and misuse of pharmaceuticals in Finland were estimated at between EUR 200 million and EUR 300 million in 2007. Indirect costs were estimated between EUR 500 million and EUR 1 100 million in the same year. Social welfare accounted for the largest portion, nearly a third, of all direct costs, followed by the enforcement of public order and safety, which accounted for about a quarter. The largest portion of indirect costs came from the value of life lost due to premature death.

In Scotland, the most recent estimate of the economic and social costs of drug misuse is EUR 5.1 billion in 2006. Half of these costs were attributed to ‘wider social costs’, including the costs to victims of crime perpetrated by problem drug users, and the emotional pain experienced by the families of drug users who have died as a result of their drug use. Of the total social and economic cost, 96 % was attributed to problem drug use, and 4% to recreational drug use.

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

Bibliographic references

EMCDDA (2008), Towards a better understanding of drug-related public expenditure in Europe, EMCDDA Selected issue, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

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: Monday, 25 October 2010