European Drug Report 2017

Drug use prevalence and trends

Cocaine prevalence: stable national trends

Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, and its use is more prevalent in southern and western countries. Among regular consumers, a broad distinction can be made between more socially integrated users, who often sniff powder cocaine (cocaine hydrochloride), and marginalised users, who inject cocaine or smoke crack (cocaine base), sometimes alongside the use of opioids.

It is estimated that 17.5 million European adults (aged 15–64), or 5.2 % of this age group, have experimented with cocaine at some time in their lives. Among these are about 2.3 million young adults aged 15 to 34 (1.9 % of this age group) who have used the drug in the last year.

Only Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom report last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of 2.5 % or more. Across Europe, the decreases in cocaine use reported in previous years have not been observed in the most recent surveys. Of the countries that have produced surveys since 2014 and reported confidence intervals, 2 reported higher estimates, 11 reported a stable trend, and 1 reported a lower estimate than in the previous comparable survey.

A statistical analysis of long-term trends in last year use of cocaine among young adults is only possible for a small number of countries, and new data confirm existing trends. Spain and the United Kingdom both reported trends of increasing prevalence until 2008, followed by stability or decline. While at lower levels of prevalence, an upward trend can be observed in France, with prevalence for the first time rising above 2 % in 2014. Statistically, the 2015 survey in Germany showed a decline in cocaine prevalence, which had remained stable between 2000 and 2009.

Last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults (15–34): selected trends and most recent data (percent)

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Analysis of municipal wastewater for cocaine residues carried out in a multi-city study complements the results from population surveys. Wastewater analysis reports on collective consumption of pure substances within a community, and the results are not directly comparable with prevalence estimates from national population surveys. The results of wastewater analysis are presented in standardised amounts (mass loads) of drug residue per 1 000 population per day.

A 2016 analysis found the highest mass loads of benzoylecgonine - the main metabolite of cocaine - in cities in Belgium, Spain and the United Kingdom and very low levels in the majority of eastern European cities. Of the 33 cities that have data for 2015 and 2016, 22 reported an increase, 4 a decrease and 7 a stable situation. Stable or increasing longer-term trends are reported for most of the 13 cities with data for 2011 and 2016.

Cocaine residues in wastewater in selected European cities: trends and most recent data

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Mean daily amounts of benzoylecgonine in milligrams per 1 000 population. Sampling was carried out in selected European cities over a week in 2016. Source: Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe (SCORE).