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Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Foreword, acknowledgements and introductory note

Published: 15 November 2011


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the signing at the United Nations of the Single Convention on narcotic drugs, a cornerstone of the international drug control system. In presenting our annual assessment of the state of the European drug problem, it is hard not to be struck by how much this phenomenon has evolved over the last half-century. The complex drug problems we face today in Europe are shaped by many factors and do not exist in either social or geographical isolation. Our report recognises this fact as well as the need to take into account broader cultural developments and global trends, as both can have profound implications for the patterns of drug use and the associated harms that we face. The current economic difficulties experienced by many European countries are a part of the backdrop to our reporting; one that already is making itself felt as budgets for services become harder to find. Advances in information technology have transformed almost all aspects of our modern lives, and it is therefore not surprising that we now see an impact on the drug phenomenon. We see this concretely not only in the way that drugs are marketed and sold, but also in the arrival of new opportunities for prevention and treatment. The more joined-up world we live in is increasingly exploited by organised crime, which sees drugs as just one type of illicit commodity among others. Here again a global perspective is important, as the implications of drug use in Europe do not stop at our borders. Just one example of this is the way that the results of EU efforts to support social development in neighbouring countries are put at risk by changes in drug trafficking routes, which undermine the growth of fragile democratic institutions and feed corrupt practices.

It is important to acknowledge that this report is a collaborative achievement, and we express here our appreciation of all those who have contributed to its production. In particular, this report is only possible because of the hard work and dedication of our partners in the Reitox network of national focal points and the experts across Europe who have contributed to its analysis. We are also indebted to other European and international agencies for the analysis they have provided. Our job, however, is not simply to collate the information provided by others. Our task is to provide a scientifically sound and independent analysis of the European drug problem. To do this, we need to interpret often-imperfect data. The EMCDDA's approach to analysis is both multi-indicator and cautious. Conclusions derived from one data set must be tested against other information sources; and we make no apologies for our conservatism in the interpretation made where information is poor. That said, the quality, quantity and comparability of information available on the drug situation in Europe continues to grow. This in itself represents a real achievement, and testifies to the value of cooperation and coordinated actions within the European Union.

Finally, this annual report should not be read on its own, but as one part of our comprehensive annual reporting package. The data on which our analysis is based and extensive methodological notes can be found in the accompanying statistical bulletin. In more issue-focused publications linked to this year's report, we also explore in detail: the cost and funding of drug treatment, guidelines on the delivery of care, the cannabis market, and overall mortality attributable to drug use. Country specific information is available in detailed national reports and online country overviews. Our reporting is designed to be accessible to the general reader, strategically focused to serve our policy audience, and sufficiently detailed to meet the needs of researchers, students and scientists. Whatever your perspective, we hope that our work will increase your understanding of the European drug situation. This is our mission, but moreover we believe that such understanding is a critical requirement to the development of effective drug policies and responses.

João Goulão
Chairman, EMCDDA Management Board

Wolfgang Götz
Director, EMCDDA

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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 and experts 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 (EMA) and Europol;
  • the Pompidou Group of the Council of Europe, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the International Narcotics Control Board, the WHO Regional Office for Europe, Interpol, the World Customs Organisation, the Controlled Substances and Tobacco Directorate of Health Canada, the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children study, 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 Publications Office of the European Union.

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.

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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. The statistical data reported here relate to the year 2009 (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 2008 may substitute for missing 2009 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.

Accessing the annual report and its data sources on the Internet

The annual report is available for downloading in 22 languages on the EMCDDA website. The electronic version contains links to all online sources cited in the annual report.

The following resources are available only on the Internet.

The 2011 statistical bulletin presents the source tables on which the statistical analysis in the annual report is based. It also provides further detail on the methodology used and about 100 additional statistical graphs.

The national reports of the Reitox focal points give a detailed description and analysis of the drugs problem in each country.

Country overviews provide a top-level, graphical summary of key aspects of the drug situation for each country.

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 are presented based on the most recent survey available in each country, which in most cases is between 2006 and 2009. 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 often 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 school students who turn 16 during the calendar year. In 2007, data were collected in 35 countries, including 25 EU Member States, Croatia and Norway. The results of the fifth round, conducted in 2011 with participation of 23 out of the 27 Member States together with Croatia and Norway, will be published in 2012.

The 'Health behaviour in school-aged children' (HBSC) survey is a WHO collaborative study which investigates children's health and health behaviour, and has included questions about cannabis use among 15-year-old students since 2001. The third round of this survey with questions about cannabis use was conducted in 2009-10 with the participation of 23 out of the 27 EU Member States together with Croatia and Norway.

Treatment demand

In reports on treatment demand, 'new clients' refers to those who have entered treatment during the calendar year for the first time in their lives and 'all clients' refers to all those entering treatment during the calendar year. 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.


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.

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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, 28 October 2011