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Drug-related public expenditure

'Evaluating drug policy has been an EU priority since the publication of the EU drugs strategy (2000-2004). Subsequently, implementing cost-effective actions in drug policy was addressed both in the EU drugs strategy (2004-12) and in the EU drugs action plan (2009-12). More recently, the EU Drugs Strategy for (2013-2020) confirms the objective of contributing to a better dissemination of evaluation results and the EU Action Plan on Drugs (2017-2020) identifies developments in national evaluations and public expenditure estimates of Member States as an overarching indicator for measuring the EU Action Plan achievements.

To the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has been given the objective of developing analytical instruments to better assess the effectiveness and impact of drug policy using a number of tools including the analysis of public expenditure. Therefore, the EMCDDA aims to contribute to developing estimates of public expenditure in EU Member States. The need to develop means of estimating public expenditure reflects the importance of making data and models available, as a first step in the economic evaluation of policies and interventions. In fact, the resolute political will to address the drugs problem in Europe lies not only in the development of appropriate policies, but also in the amount of public funds assigned to implement cost-effective policies. Limited data and/or insufficient comprehension of the financing of drug treatment will inevitably hinder the efficient allocation of resources.

Multi-country estimates

Estimating drug-related public expenditure and developing the economic evaluation of drug policy have been on the European agenda for more than a decade (1). However, only a few countries have produced comprehensive estimates of drug-related public expenditure. Moreover, those who have done it have generally used non-comparable methodologies. As a consequence, a European cost-benefit evaluation of drug policies is still in its infancy and an overall picture of European drug-related public expenditure does not exist.

The EMCDDA supports the development of national and supra-national estimates of drug-related public expenditure in Europe. This approach has so far contributed to developing national estimates but it has also highlighted several methodological issues and practical difficulties that require attention. One key difficulty is that only a small portion of drug-related public expenditure can be traced back directly in the government’s budget and accountancy documents, i.e., it is labelled. The largest share of drug-related expenditure needs to be estimated with models and secondary data sets, i.e., it is unlabelled.

The EMCDDA is developing a series of publications with the goal of discussing the topic and tackling the methods used to estimate unlabelled drug-related expenditure. The agency aims to support national and European estimates of drug-related public expenditure, to stimulate a constructive and pragmatic debate among researchers, and to provide a common understanding of how much is spent on the different areas of drug policy in Europe.

  • (1) Council of the European Union (2005) EU drugs action plan (2005-08), Cordrogue 25, Brussels, 19 May 2005.

Terminology and definitions

General government and public expenditure

A country’s General government is the set of institutional units producing non-market services for individual/collective consumption and redistributing income and wealth. It mainly consists of central, regional and local government units together with social security funds. It also includes non-profit institutions engaged in non-market production that are controlled and mainly financed by government units or social security funds (1).

Public expenditure is the amount of funds that a government spends on the compensation of civil servants, social benefits, interest on the public debt, subsidies, and gross fixed capital formation (2) This spending is used for different purposes. Drug-related public expenditure is the public spending which aims to tackle the drugs problem.

Systems used to classify drug-related public expenditure

There are two main systems that are used to classify public expenditure according to drug policy objectives. The first — the Classification of the Functions of Government (COFOG) — breaks down expenditure by a government’s main socio-economic functions (3).The COFOG system comprises two levels of disaggregation. The first splits expenditure into ten general functions, such as ‘defence’, ‘public order and safety’, ‘health’ and ‘social protection’. The second level of disaggregation breaks down expenditure into 69 groups with more specific items such as ‘police services’, ‘law courts’, ‘prisons’, ‘hospital services’, ‘outpatient services’, etc.

The second classification system was set up by Reuters and is currently known as the Reuters classification system (4).This system breaks down drug-related expenditure into four main groups: prevention, harm reduction, treatment and law enforcement. According to Reuters, prevention programmes reduce initiation or the probability of progress from experimental to regular drug use, either by persuasion or by reducing the accessibility of drugs for novice users. Harm reduction programmes seek explicitly to reduce the adverse consequences of drug use. There are two categories in this group: harm prevention aims to reduce the risk of harm conditional on the drug; harm amelioration aims to reduce the severity of specific harms after their occurrence (e.g. treatment of HIV positive patients, psychiatric treatment for co-morbidities). Treatment programmes reduce drug use by experienced users through direct individual service (e.g. medical and counselling services). Enforcement programmes aimed at traffickers and producers to shift up the supply curve for drugs should raise the price of drugs and lower quantity. Enforcement programmes aimed at users and retailers raise the transaction costs of buying drugs; these efforts shift the demand curve downwards and lower prices and quantities.

There are two different ways of accounting for drug-related public expenditure. The first is called ‘labelled expenditure’ and refers to the ex-ante planned public expenditure made by general government in the budget that reflects the public and voluntary commitment of a country in the field of drugs. The second is called ‘unlabelled expenditure’ and concerns the non-planned or non publicly announced ex-post public expenditure incurred by the general government in tackling drugs that is not identified as drug-related in the budget. The total drug-related public expenditure is the sum of the labelled and unlabelled expenditure.



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: Monday, 18 September 2017