As of mid-January, more than 50 000 people had already participated in the European Web Survey on Drugs, a pilot project designed to improve understanding of patterns of drug use at European level. The survey, run with a number of Reitox national focal points, collects information from different groups of drug users, on topics currently not covered by routine data collection. The project, which started with a first wave of six countries in 2016, entered its second phase in late 2017 with an additional nine countries running the survey.

The web-based survey targets people aged over 18 who have used one or more drugs over the last 12 months. The survey is structured in modules on: cannabis (resin and herb); powder cocaine; ecstasy (MDMA); amphetamine; methamphetamine and new psychoactive substances. Participants are asked to provide information on the: frequency of their drug use; route of administration; source (bought or shared); amounts used and drug prices.

The project builds on the experience of an online survey conducted by the Trimbos Institute in 2012 for the report Further insights into the EU drug markets and aims to complement existing data collected routinely through the Reitox network. While web surveys are not representative of the general population, when carefully conducted they can offer valuable information about drug-use patterns.

Routine data-collection tools, such as General Population Surveys (GPS), generally do not have sufficiently large samples of people who use drugs. Furthermore, other research on amounts used tend to be small-scale studies focusing on a specific group of heavy users. The combination of results from web surveys, routine GPS data-collection and emerging methods (e.g. wastewater-based drug epidemiology), has the potential to paint a more comprehensive and realistic picture of drug use and drug markets in Europe.

The promotion of the surveys was carried out at national level by each of the focal points involved, with the support of other national partners. Recruitment strategies included the use of networks of low-threshold service providers. A special focus was given to the dissemination of the survey using (audio)visual material and targeted social media advertisements. Operating with high standards of data protection and confidentiality, the web survey is proving to be an inexpensive way of gathering timely data first hand.

The results of the first two phases will be used to enhance the drug market size estimates, to be published in the third EU Drug Markets Report in 2019. Given the promising performance of the current survey, it is envisaged that the range of topics covered by this data-collection method could be developed further in the future and that more countries could come on board.

A summary of preliminary findings of the first wave of six countries has been made available today.

European Web Survey on Drugs

First wave (5 EU countries + Switzerland):  Czech Republic, France, Croatia, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Switzerland
Second wave (9 EU countries):  Belgium, Estonia, Italy, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Finland