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Drugnet Europe News from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction — October–December 2012

Heroin use in decline


Since the 1970s, heroin has occupied centre stage in Europe’s drugs scene and is still responsible for the largest share of drug-related diseases and deaths in the EU. But while heroin-related problems continue, they do so at lower levels. According to the Annual report 2012: ‘We may now be moving into a new era in which heroin will play a less central role in Europe’s drugs problem’.

‘Increasingly, it has been noted that in parts of Europe today, new recruitment into heroin use has fallen, the availability of the drug has declined and, recently, some countries haveexperienced acute shortages’, states the report. Developments in the illicit drug markets will need to be followed closely to establish whether recent shortages will result in a long-term reduction in heroin availability and in other substances taking its place.

Recent declines in heroin use have occurred against a backdrop of rising treatment provision. Over half of the estimated 1.4 million regular opioid users in the EU and Norway (mostly heroin users) have access to substitution treatment today.

Around half (48 %) of those entering specialist drug treatment report opioids, mainly heroin, as their main problem drug. But, on a positive note, the report describes how the drug is nowclaiming fewer new recruits. Across Europe, the number of those entering specialist drug treatment for the first time for heroin problems fell from 51 000 in 2005 to 46 000 in 2010, having peaked at 61 000 in 2007.

Market indicators suggest that heroin is becoming less available on the streets of Europe. Latest figures for seizures and drug-law offences, for example, both point to an overall decrease in heroin supply. Shortages were felt in some countries in late 2010 and early 2011, particularly in Ireland and the UK, where law-enforcement successes may have played a role.

Also on a positive note, data from treatment clients continue to show an overall decrease in opioid injection (particularly heroin injection) in Europe. Among first-time treatment entrants, the percentage of heroin injectors fell to around a third (38 %) in 2009 from over a half (58 %) a decade earlier.

The report states that changes in heroin availability in Europe may be linked to a ‘shift in drug use patterns’, such as switching to synthetic opioids. In Estonia, over three-quarters of thoseentering treatment report fentanyl as their main problem drug. Misuse of buprenorphine, commonly used in substitution treatment, is the most frequently reported primary opioid among those entering treatment in Finland.

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: Thursday, 15 November 2012