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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 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Policies and laws

Published: 15 November 2011

Public expenditure

In Europe, public expenditure on all aspects of the drug phenomenon has been under scrutiny during the last decade (EMCDDA, 2008). This section explores the available comprehensive estimates of national drug-related public expenditure in Europe. It looks for insights into two key questions on public expenditure. First, what proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) do countries spend on the drug problem and, secondly, how are these funds divided among the different fields of activity, particularly the division between supply reduction and demand reduction interventions.

The amount and quality of information available on drug-related public expenditure varies greatly between countries. The available studies cover different years, use a range of methodologies and refer to countries with different public sector structures. Differences in methods of accounting drug-related expenditures greatly limit the scope for national comparisons. Some of the funds allocated by government for expenditure on tasks related to drugs are identified as such in national budgets ('labelled'). Frequently, however, the bulk of drug-related expenditure is not identified ('unlabelled'), and must be estimated by modelling approaches.

In the last decade, at least 12 countries have attempted to arrive at comprehensive estimates of drug-related expenditure (Table 2: Estimates of drug-related public expenditure). These countries reported public expenditure on the drug problem ranging from 0.04 % of GDP to 0.48 % of GDP.

As seen in other areas of social policy, as countries become wealthier, the proportion of GDP spent by government on activities related to drugs increases (OECD, 2006; Prieto, 2010). In Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, it is estimated that at least 0.1 % of GDP was devoted to drug-related problems; in France, Latvia (labelled expenditure only), Hungary and Slovakia, it accounted for between 0.1 % and 0.04 % of GDP. Taking into account that different methods were used and that the degree of completeness varies, these values do not differ greatly from estimations for the USA (0.42 %) (Reuter, 2006) and Australia (0.41 % of GDP) (Moore, 2008).

Table 2: Estimates of drug-related public expenditure
Country Year Allocation of drug-related public expenditure (%) Proportion of GDP (%) (1) Level of government
Demand reduction Supply reduction

(1) Due to differences between countries in methodology, data quality and completeness, values for drug-related public expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) are indicative only, and should not be taken to represent the full extent of national public expenditure on the drug problem.

(2) Labelled expenditure only.

NB: See Table PPP-10 in the 2011 statistical bulletin for a full list of sources.

Sources:Reitox national reports, Eurostat.

Belgium 2004 43.4 56.2 0.10 Federal, regional, provincial and municipal authorities
Czech Republic (2) 2006 8.2 91.8 0.20 Central, regional and local government and social security
France 2005 51.6 48.4 0.07 Central government
Germany 2006 35.0 65.0 0.22–0.26 Federal, state, local authorities and social insurance
Hungary 2007 25.0 75.0 0.04 Central government
Latvia (2) 2008 40.9 51.3 0.04 Central government and one local programme
Luxembourg 2009 43.0 57.0 0.10 Central government and social security
Netherlands 2003 25.0 75.0 0.46 Central and local government
Slovakia 2006 30.0 70.0 0.05 Central government and social security
Finland 2008 45.0 55.0 0.07 Central and local government
Sweden 2002 25.0 75.0 0.28 Unidentified public sectors (only the agencies involved)
United Kingdom 2005/06 41.3 58.7 0.48 Central and regional government

Public expenditure studies also attempt to estimate the allocation of funds for different types of drug-related issues. However, caution is required in making comparisons between countries, as they may not apply the same classification of expenditure. Among the 12 countries presenting complete estimations, supply reduction activities - 'law enforcement' or 'public order and safety' - accounted for between 48 % and 92 % of the total. Expenditure for justice, police, customs and prisons were the items most frequently reported.

The way countries categorise demand reduction expenditures varies markedly in Europe. Expenditure on treatment or health accounts for about 40 % or more of the total reported for Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Spending on harm reduction was identified by five countries, ranging from 0.1 % to 28.8 % of estimated drug-related expenditure. Seven countries provided data on expenditure related to prevention, with estimates ranging from 1 % to 12 % of the total expenditure on drugs issues.

A number of European countries are already using data on public expenditure as a tool for planning and evaluating the implementation of drug policies, while others, such as Portugal and Slovakia, report plans to do so. Developing a clear and complete picture of national drug-related public expenditure in Europe, however, remains a challenge. Currently, there is no consensus on how to estimate specific types of drug-related expenditures. In order to improve accuracy and comparability across countries, a comprehensive mapping of the public bodies funding drug policy will be necessary, as well as the harmonisation of concepts and definitions.

Bibliographic references

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

Moore, T. (2008), 'The size and mix of government spending on illicit drug policy in Australia', Drug and Alcohol Review 27, pp. 404-13.

OECD (2006), 'The drivers of public expenditure on health and long-term care: an integrated approach', OECD Economic Studies 43, pp. 115-54.

Prieto, L. (2010), 'Labelled drug-related public expenditure in relation to GDP in Europe: a luxury good?', Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention and Policy 5, p. 9.

Reuter, P. (2006), 'What drug policies cost. Estimating government drug policy expenditures', Addiction 101, pp. 315-22.

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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: Friday, 28 October 2011