New analysis sheds light on drug-related hospital emergencies in Europe

Data from hospital emergency departments show that every year in Europe thousands
of individuals experience drug-related poisoning and other harms, requiring some kind of medical assistance. In a new analysis published today, European Drug Emergencies Network (Euro-DEN Plus): data and analysis, the EMCDDA provides the latest findings on acute drug-toxicity presentations to hospital emergency services. The results show that cocaine is the most commonly reported drug in these emergencies, most presentations are among males, polydrug use is frequent and patients tend to be younger (under 25 years) in the south and east of Europe.

The EMCDDA collects and analyses data on emergency department presentations with acute drug toxicity via the European Drug Emergencies Network (Euro-DEN Plus). Since its creation in 2013, the network — now composed of over 30 sentinel hospitals in 22 countries — has recorded over 65 000 presentations to emergency services. 

The latest results, collected from 28 sentinel hospitals in 2021, show that the number of presentations varied considerably across study locations. Hospitals in Oslo, London, Antwerp, Dublin, Amsterdam and Geneva had the highest numbers of presentations reported, reflecting the large size and catchment area of the hospitals, but also the prevalence of drug use around the hospitals. The type of drugs involved in the presentations also varied across centres — reflecting local markets and patterns of use — although the main drugs were reported in most of the participating centres.

The results reveal that the most frequently reported drugs, or groups of drugs, included cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine, heroin, GHB/GBL, MDMA and methamphetamine. Alcohol was commonly co-reported and prescription medicines (in the context of polydrug use) were a significant group of drugs involved in acute drug toxicity presentations. New psychoactive substances (NPS) were rarely reported and in only a limited number of centres. Most presentations were discharged from the emergency department and admission to intensive care units was uncommon.

New interactive features — data explorer tool

A new data explorer tool launched today allows access to data from 2014 to 2021 on drug-related hospital emergencies. Through an interactive map, users can explore acute drug-toxicity presentations to emergency services by year, by hospital and by reported drug. Information of the sex, age and outcome of the cases is also available by centre. The data reveal a picture of distinct geographical and temporal patterns of acute drug toxicity presentations in hospitals across European cities.

This interactive feature has been designed to be accessible and user-friendly and to perform better on mobile and desktop devices. In line with the EMCDDA’s commitment to open data, all of the source tables behind the tool can be easily downloaded by researchers, data journalists or anyone interested in using the data in their work. 

Statistical Bulletin 2023

For the first time this year, the dataset of the Euro-DEN Plus network is available in the Statistical Bulletin 2023. Published annually, this is one of the EMCDDA’s key outputs and complements the analysis presented in the European Drug Report 2023. 

Frequently asked questions

Frequently-asked questions (FAQ) on acute drug toxicity presentations to hospital emergency services are also published today, presenting information on the methods, strengths and limitations of this approach based on a network of sentinel hospitals across Europe. Despite these limitations, the Euro-DEN Plus model provides more timely data compared to other sources (e.g. routine hospital statistics, mortality or treatment registers) and thus supports rapid risk assessments. In addition, emergency rooms are settings where new drug consumption patterns and behaviours may be identified at an early stage (e.g. injecting or mixing drugs). Furthermore, the Euro-DEN Plus network provides city-level information for local policy making.