European Web Survey on Drugs: patterns of use

European Web Survey on Drugs: patterns of use

Web-based surveys are a useful tool for collecting information on patterns of drug use from a wider range of people who use illicit drugs quickly and cheaply and be a way of overcoming some of the problems of other data sources and non- probabilistic. These should complement data coming from general population surveys. Read more >>

Data collection

For this pilot study, in a first phase, the survey was conducted in different countries across Europe. The countries were: Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The surveys ran at different times.

For the second round, the following countries participated: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Poland.

A new round of the European Web Survey on Drugs will take place in early 2021.

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Background and context

The EMCDDA is currently developing estimates of the size of the drug market in the EU based on data provided routinely to the EMCDDA by national focal points. One key component of such market size estimates, for which there is no routine data collection and only limited data available, is the quantities of substances used by different groups of drug users. The data that is available has tended to come mainly from small scale studies of specific heavy user groups, for example of people entering treatment. On the other hand, General Population Surveys generally do not have sufficiently large samples of drug users to provide robust information on amounts.

For the report Further Insights into the EU drug markets, researchers from Trimbos Institute coordinated an online survey of drug users in seven EU countries, which included the collection of information about amounts used as well as frequency of use and sources of supply. The data collected provided valuable information on the variation in quantities used per occasion by different user groups in different countries. It also demonstrated the potential of this approach for obtaining information from drug users in different countries in a quick and cost-effective manner, while highlighting areas requiring further development to improve the method for the future.

The EMCDDA undertook a pilot project to build on the earlier survey experience and develop a system and the capacity within EMCDDA for collecting such data. This would not only be of value to the EMCDDA but would also be a valuable resource for national focal points allowing them to obtain valuable information for policy development at the national level quickly and at low cost.

The main added value of the European Web Survey on Drugs was to develop and test a web survey tool to collect information on the amounts of drugs used by different groups of people in several European countries as well as information on purchases. The co-operative model adopted for the European Web Survey on Drugs has proved successful, with a central European institution co-ordinating the study and each participating country being responsible for the translation of the questionnaire and for developing adequate recruitment strategies.

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Aims and objectives

The project aims to develop and test a web survey tool or tools to collect information on the amounts of drugs used by different groups of drug users and to draft guidance for adapting and administering it in different countries. The objective is to assist EMCDDA in the development of a tool that can be offered to national focal points with a view to increasing the information available on quantities of drugs used in order to enhance market size estimation at both the national and European level and for use in policy development more widely.

For more information/queries, please contact João Matias.

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Proposed work programme

The aim is to develop a web survey module and accompanying guidance that can be used by national focal points to collect information on topics, such as amounts of drugs used by different groups of drug users, that are not feasible to include in General Population Surveys (GPS) because of the small numbers of drug users, particularly frequent drug users, that such surveys cover. While not being representative of the general population, web surveys carefully conducted may nevertheless provide valuable information about variations in use among different groups of drug use that can be a valuable adjunct to GPS. If a common approach is taken to developing the sampling strategies, the same questions are used along with rigorous translation processes then they may also provide useful cross-national comparisons. Thus if this pilot is successful there is the potential to extend the project to include other countries and other topics adding to the European knowledge base in a quick and cost-effective manner.

Building on the questionnaire used for the Further Insights into the EU drug markets report and the lessons learned from that process a web survey tool or tools will be developed to collect information on quantities of drugs used by users of the following drugs: cannabis, amphetamines, cocaine and ecstasy.

For the second round of the project, a module on ‘New Psychoactive Substances’ (NPS) was added and the original module for amphetamines was split into two: amphetamine and methamphetamine. These modules have been pre-tested at national level.

Deciding the recruitment strategy to use in each country to ensure coverage of the important user groups for each drug within that country will be important to ensuring the quality of the data obtained. Guidance on doing this will be developed and participant countries will be involved in discussions about the best approaches to share ideas and experience. For the second round, the feasibility of recruiting participants via the ‘darknet’ will be tested as well as the potential to carry out sentiment analysis on the qualitative information produced.

As for the first round, the intention is to do the data cleaning and initial analysis at the EMCDDA to ensure compatibility. Countries will be provided with their data for their own use.

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Emerging findings of the first two rounds:

 Approach very promising: quick, big user samples and cheap

 Good collaborative working

 Acceptable to users: positive comments and agree to follow-up

 Value of European branding & central web page

 Data cleaning takes a lot of time – more attention to routing and range controls needed

 Not a panacea: not generalisable to the whole population - complement not replacement for GPS

 Current recruitment strategies have mainly reached recreational users

First round

Second round

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Proposed timeframe

A first meeting with the participant countries was held alongside the Head of national focal points meeting in November 2015, to discuss the practical details of the study and share ideas.

A web-based forum was created as a tool for the participating countries to share ideas, strategies and documents related to the project.

Data collection for the second round will run in different time periods for the different participating countries, starting in October 2017.

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Special round of European Web Survey on Drugs to assess impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Crucial information on the impact of COVID-19 on people who use drugs, and on the services that support them, will be collected via a special round of the European Web Survey on Drugs. The survey — the Mini European Web Survey on Drugs: COVID-19 — is coordinated by the EMCDDA in collaboration with its Reitox network of national focal points.

The new survey, already available in 20 languages, will gather information on how patterns of drug use, access to health services and the drug market may have changed in Europe during the pandemic. This, in turn, will feed into a monthly EMCDDA trendspotter bulletin and a new repository of resources on COVID-19, launched in March on the agency’s website.

The survey findings will contribute to the emerging knowledge base on COVID-19 and Europe’s response to it, potentially helping to protect the health of people who use drugs, improve drug services and raise awareness of market changes.

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