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Drugnet Europe News from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction — July–September 2010

Injecting drug use stable or declining

picture of a syringe

Drug injecting — still at the heart of Europe's drug problem.

Injecting drug use is strongly associated with severe health problems in drug users, including blood-borne infections (e.g. HIV/AIDS, hepatitis) and overdose. But the latest analysis of this practice is encouraging. In a new EMCDDA report released ahead of International day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking (26 June), injecting drug use is described as stable or declining in most European countries.

'Injecting drug use has a long history in Europe, but came to the fore in the early 1980s in the context of a growing heroin problem and the diffusion of HIV. Since then it has been associated with over 100 000 deaths', said Chairman of the EMCDDA Management Board, João Goulão, at the release of the report. 'Some 30 years on, we are encouraged that drug injecting now appears to be waning. But we cannot forget that it is still at the heart of Europe's drugs problem'.

In the report, Trends in injecting drug use in Europe, the EMCDDA estimates that there may be between 750 000 and one million active injecting drug users currently in the EU. And, in several countries, there are still signs of recent recruitment into drug injecting. The report analyses data from a variety of sources to describe Europe's current drug injection problem and to plot its trends in recent years. Also reviewed are responses to this practice and measures to reduce related harms.

Data collected on drug users entering treatment provide a comprehensive picture of drug injecting in Europe. One-third (33 %) of all those entering treatment for drug problems in 26 countries (25 EU + Croatia) report 'usually injecting' their main drug of choice. According to the report, of the clients entering treatment for the first time for opioid, cocaine or amphetamine problems, the proportion reporting injecting has decreased in most countries.

Injecting drug use in Europe is mostly linked to opioid use, but less than half (45 %) of those entering treatment for primary opioid use report 'usually injecting' their drug. Between 2002 and 2007, among heroin users entering treatment for the first time, the decline in the proportion of injectors was statistically significant in 10 countries. Over the same period, data on those entering treatment for the first time suggested a declining trend in injecting among primary cocaine users and a stable trend among primary amphetamine users.

European countries target injecting drug use and its consequences through a variety of interventions, mainly in the fields of drug treatment and harm reduction. Opioid substitution treatment and needle and syringe exchange programmes now exist in all 27 EU Member States, Croatia and Norway, although coverage is still uneven. According to latest estimates, there are around 650 000 clients in opioid substitution treatment in the EU, representing more than a three-fold increase since 1995. Specialised syringe provision outlets (not including pharmacy sales) are estimated to distribute on average about 50 syringes a year per injecting drug user across the EU.

'Injecting drug use was one of the major problems in Europe that motivated policymakers to create the EMCDDA in the early 1990s', recalls EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz. Despite the improvements outlined in the report, he describes targeting drug injection and the harms it causes still a 'high priority for European drug policy'.

Drugnet Europe is the EMCDDA's newsletter launched in September 1996. The newsletter provides regular and succint information on the Centre's projects and activities to a broad readership.

Page last updated: Monday, 19 July 2010