The latest general population survey in Bulgaria, carried out in 2016, indicates that cannabis remains the most frequently used illicit substance, followed by MDMA/ecstasy. In general, illicit drug use is concentrated among young people aged 15-34 years. The long-term trend indicates an increase in last year prevalence of cannabis and MDMA use among young people between 2007 and 2016. Last year prevalence of amphetamines, cocaine and heroin use remained low among the general population.
Data on drug use among 15- to 16-year-old students are reported by the 2015 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). This study has been conducted in Bulgaria since 1999. In 2015, Bulgarian students reported higher than average (based on data from 35 countries) levels of lifetime use for six of the eight key substances studied, including cannabis, illicit drugs other than cannabis and new psychoactive substances. Lifetime cannabis use increased substantially between 1999 and 2003, and has increased slightly since then. Bulgarian students reported one of the highest rates of lifetime cannabis use among the ESPAD countries. Cigarette use, alcohol use and heavy episodic drinking for the last 30 days also exceeded the ESPAD average. However, lifetime use of inhalants and non-prescription use of tranquillisers or sedatives were slightly below the ESPAD average.
In 2017, a National Representative Survey among students (grades 9-12) was conducted; around 26 % of the students reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetime. Studies conducted among university students in 2006-14 indicate relatively stable levels of cannabis consumption among young adults over this period.
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.
Recent data on high-risk drug use in Bulgaria are limited. In general, problem drug use in Bulgaria is linked to the use of opioids (primarily heroin) and injecting drug use.
Data from specialised treatment centres indicate that heroin remains the primary substance used by a large proportion of first-time treatment clients, although a reduction in the number and proportion of first-time entrants seeking help primarily for heroin use has been noted since 2009. Injecting remains a common mode of heroin use in Bulgaria, although the proportion of heroin users who inject is decreasing.
Data from the 2016 general population survey indicate that, in Bulgaria, an estimated 0.48 % of 15- to 64-year-olds have used cannabis 2 or more days every week in the past 12 months.