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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2009 (or the last year available).


Annual report 2011: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Policies and laws

Published: 15 November 2011

EU and international policy developments

Road to the new EU drug policy initiatives

The new drug policy framework being developed by the European Commission will be one of the first drug policy documents adopted under the Lisbon Treaty (see EMCDDA, 2010). Preparatory work includes a final external evaluation of the 2005-12 EU drug strategy. This evaluation will draw on interviews with stakeholders from the Member States, third countries and international organisations and on the analysis of policy documents and trend reports. The European Commission's Civil Society Forum on drugs will contribute with a position paper. In addition, members from different political groups of the European Parliament have organised meetings and hearings to discuss current and future EU drug policy. These various discussions and contributions, together with the evaluation, will contribute to the development of a comprehensive EU drugs policy for the period after 2012.

Two decades of EU drug policy

Since the early 1990s, the European Union has adopted eight drug strategies or action plans (see Figure 1: Timeline of European drug policy documents), and the shift in content of successive documents reflects the development of the European approach to drugs. Actions aimed at reducing both the supply of drugs and the demand for drugs were included in the first two European drug plans. The concept of an integrated approach, linking both of these elements, first appeared in the 1995-99 plan. The strategy adopted in 2000 defined the EU approach as both integrated and balanced, attributing similar policy weights to demand reduction and supply reduction interventions. This shift in approach is reflected in the titles of these EU policy documents, where 'plans to combat drugs' were succeeded by the more neutrally denoted 'drugs strategies' and 'action plans'. In terms of content, one of the most obvious changes during the last two decades has been the introduction of harm-reduction objectives in the demand reduction area of EU drug policy documents.

Policy assessment and evaluation were not mentioned in the first two European plans, as the priority in the early 1990s was to create a reliable European information system on drugs. Implementation assessment was introduced in the 1995 plan, but it was not until the 2000-04 drug strategy that evaluation was consolidated as an integral part of the EU approach to drugs. Since then, all EU drug strategies and action plans have been evaluated, and the results used to guide subsequent policy documents. The new EU drug policy framework will follow this principle and, for the first time, will be based on an external evaluation of the previous strategy.

International perspective

Outside the European Union, a number of national or regional strategies were recently published, notably by Australia, Russia, the USA and the Organization of American States (OAS) (1). Examining the content of these policy documents reveals the extent to which characteristics of the EU approach are shared with other countries.

The 2010 US drug control strategy is presented as a new direction in drug policy, where drug use is seen mainly as a public health issue, and where demand for drugs is recognised as the prime cause of the drugs problem in the country. The strategy emphasises prevention, treatment and recovery from addiction, and calls for the integration of addiction treatment into mainstream medicine, as with other chronic disorders. The US strategy is echoed in the OAS's Hemispheric Drug Strategy, where drug addiction is described as a chronic relapsing disease that should be treated as such. The first Russian drug strategy (2010-20) builds on a recognition of the scale of the drugs problem, characterised by the growth in illicit drug use and its contribution to the spread of infectious diseases. The OAS, Russian and US strategies emphasise the importance of a balanced approach. The Australian drug strategy (2010-15) has the broadest scope of the four policy documents, covering all psychoactive substances capable of causing addiction and health problems: alcohol, tobacco, illicit and other drugs. Minimising harm is the overarching approach of this strategy.

An evidence-based approach to demand reduction, coupled with outcome evaluation, characterises the OAS, Australian and US strategies. Countries adopting the Hemispheric Drug Strategy are committed to subjecting their national policies and interventions to periodic, independent evaluation, the results of which will guide the allocation of resources. The 106 items of the US strategy are to be reviewed and updated annually, in order to fulfil the aims of the strategy, which include a 15 % reduction in the prevalence of drug use among 12- to 17-year-olds and a 10 % reduction among young adults by 2015. The Australian strategy's performance will be assessed according to three criteria: disruption of illegal drug supply, drug use and associated harm. The Russian strategy gives emphasis to better monitoring and data collection tools, but explicitly rejects opioid substitution treatment, an intervention that is seen as a key evidence-based approach in the EU strategy. It is also notable that mass media campaigns are components of both the Russian and US strategies, despite little evidence of their effectiveness.

Overall, there appears to be some convergence in drug strategies internationally. While the first Russian drug strategy, though recognising the problem and emphasising monitoring, adopts an ideological stance not shared by the other strategies, both the USA and OAS appear to be drawing closer to the EU model. The Australian approach, while encompassing many of the elements of EU policy, differs in the broad scope of substances it addresses.


(1) The OAS is a regional organisation bringing together all 35 independent states of the Americas, where it is the main forum for intergovernmental cooperation.

Bibliographic references

EMCDDA (2010), Annual report 2010: the state of the drug problem in Europe, 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: Friday, 28 October 2011