Austria Country Drug Report 2019

Drug use

Prevalence and trends

In Austria, cannabis remains the illicit substance that is most frequently used by 15- to 64-year-olds. The long-term analysis indicates a slightly increasing trend in cannabis use among young adults between 2008 and 2015; however, it is likely that the lower prevalence of use in 2008 may be explained by methodological differences. The Viennese drug monitoring survey, which is conducted every 2 years, indicates a steady rise in cannabis use up to 2013. The figures from the latest survey in 2017 remain at the level of 2013, despite a slight decline in the prevalence rates in 2015. Among the general population, the prevalence of use of stimulants, opioids and other illicit substances is significantly lower than that of cannabis. In general, the use of illicit substances in Austria is concentrated among younger adults, and reported prevalence rates are generally higher among males than among females.

Lifetime prevalence of the use of new psychoactive substances (NPS) among the general population remains low. While some experimentation with these substances may occur in specific settings or among subgroups of young people, data from party settings suggest that the popularity of NPS among the latter may have decreased in Austria.

A number of Austrian cities participate in the Europe-wide annual wastewater campaigns undertaken by the Sewage Analysis Core Group Europe (SCORE). This study provides data on drug use at a municipal level, based on the levels of illicit stimulants and their metabolites found in wastewater. Data have been available since 2016, and for this whole period the levels of cocaine and MDMA/ecstasy in the wastewater in Innsbruck have been higher at weekends than on weekdays, as in most European cities participating in the project. In 2018, the levels of cocaine metabolites detected in Innsbruck were higher than in 2017.

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Drug use among 15- to 16-year-old students was last reported in the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). Compared with the ESPAD averages (based on data from 35 countries), the prevalence rate of lifetime use of cannabis among Austrian students was slightly higher while lifetime use of illicit drugs other than cannabis and lifetime use of NPS were roughly the same. Variables relating to the use of licit psychoactive substances. tended to be higher than the ESPAD averages among Austrian students.

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High-risk drug use and trends

Studies reporting estimates of high-risk drug use can help to identify the extent of the more entrenched drug use problems, while data on first-time entrants to specialised drug treatment centres, when considered alongside other indicators, can inform an understanding of the nature of and trends in high-risk drug use.

High-risk drug use in Austria remains mainly linked to the use of opioids — mostly heroin or medication used in opioid substitution treatment, usually in combination with other illicit and licit substances. The most recent estimate indicates that there are between 35 764 and 38 122 high-risk opioid users in Austria. The proportion of high-risk opioid users aged less than 25 years has been declining in the last 10 years. Approximately half of the estimated number of high-risk opioid users reside in Vienna, and the majority are male. There are no specific estimates for injecting drug use in Austria. Data from treatment facilities indicate that young heroin users predominantly snort or smoke the substance. In recent years, localised areas of high-risk methamphetamine use have emerged in Upper Austria.

Since 2006, the number of first-time clients entering outpatient treatment and support services who specified cannabis as their primary drug has gradually increased, and cannabis is now the predominant substance among this group. The number of first-time clients specifying cocaine has remained largely stable, although in recent years it has slightly increased. Around one in five new clients entering treatment in 2017 was female; however, the proportion varies depending on main drug and type of treatment programme.

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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.