Drug policy evaluation in Europe — topic overview

Evaluation is essential for effective policymaking, helping ensure that policies and programmes have the desired effect, provide value for money and do not have negative unintended consequences. The importance of evaluation has been recognised in all EU drug strategies and in the strategies of many Member States.

To support those considering or involved in commissioning, managing or undertaking policy evaluations, this page provides access to a range of materials, including a 7-step guide, examples of strategies and evaluations in Europe and potentially useful data sources.

Contact the policy evaluation team   

Page last updated: December 2023

Timeline of EU drug strategies and plans and their evaluation

1990

The call for a common approach to the drugs phenomenon in Europe was first made by the European Parliament in the mid 1980s. In response, heads of state and government of the 12 Member States of the European Community agreed on the first European plan in the field of drugs 1990.

1992

Two years later, the plan was revised and a new European plan in the field of drugs 1992 was adopted by the European Committee to Combat Drugs — CELAD, a newly created intergovernmental mechanism among Member States.

1995

However, in 1995 on the basis of the new prerogatives given by the Treaty on the European Union, the European Commission took the lead in drafting and adopting a more comprehensive European action plan to combat drugs 1995–99. This represented an important step towards the development of a European approach on drugs.

1999

Four years later, upon a Communication of the European Commission, the European Council endorsed the EU drugs strategy 2000–04, and in June 2000 adopted a new EU action plan on drugs 2000–04.

2002

The action plan called upon the European Commission to undertake a mid-term evaluation in 2002 and …

2004

… a final evaluation in 2004. This was the first time that such an evaluation exercise had been undertaken in the drugs field at EU level. During 2004, talks, meetings and conferences were organised by successive EU presidencies to give continuity to the European approach on drugs. At its December 2004 meeting, the European Council adopted the EU drugs strategy 2005–12, covering an 8-year period.

2005

Two consecutive 4-year action plans were subsequently adopted, the first of which was the EU drugs action plan 2005–08.

2008

The European Commission was tasked to draw up annual progress reviews on the implementation of the action plans, for consideration by the Council, and to conduct the final evaluation of the EU drugs action plan (2005–08)

2009

On the basis of this evaluation, the new action plan 2009–12 was drafted.

2012

Action 72 of the EU drugs action plan 2009–12 would request the European Commission to undertake an external, independent assessment of the implementation of the EU drugs strategy 2005–12 and its action plans.

2013

On the basis of the external evaluation, on 7 December 2012, the Justice and Home Affairs Council of the European Union endorsed a new EU drugs strategy (2013–20) and, on 6 June 2013, a new EU action plan (2013–16).

2016

In 2016, the Commission conducted a mid-term assessment of the strategy, which looked at the outputs of the strategy and their impact.

2020

On the basis of the external evaluation, on 24 July 2020, the European Commission adopted a Communication to the European Parliament, the Council the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on an EU Agenda and Action Plan on Drugs 2021-2025. On these bases, on 18 December 2020, the Council of the European Union endorsed a new EU drugs strategy (2021–25).

2021

On 21 June, the Council of the EU approved the EU Drugs Action Plan for 2021–2025, which presents the concrete actions needed to achieve the priorities of the EU drugs strategy (2021-25).

2024-25

The EU Drugs Strategy and Drugs Action Plan 2021-25 task the European Commission with initiating an evaluation of the strategy and action plan and communicating it’s results to the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament by 31 March 2025.

Drug strategy evaluation at the national level

This section provides a summary of the evaluation of national drug strategies in the EMCDDA’s 29 reporting countries (EU-27, plus Türkiye and Norway) up to the end of 2023. More detailed information can be obtained in the 2017 EMCDDA Paper National drug strategies in Europe.

Governments use national drug strategies and action plans to elaborate their approach to illicit drug policy. The strategies generally give an outline of the overall principles and course of action being followed and implemented through programmes and projects. The trend towards the use of these documents has been developing since the mid-1990s. At that time a third of the EMCDDA’s current reporting countries had one and by the turn of the century two-thirds had adopted one. At the end of 2023, all of the 29 countries had an active strategy. While Denmark’s national drug policy is expressed in a range of strategic documents, legislation and concrete actions, all other countries have a national drug strategy document. Of these countries, 12 have a national drugs strategy that focuses only on illicit drugs, while 17 other countries have a broader document that also addresses other substances (e.g. alcohol, tobacco and medicines) and addictions (e.g. gambling).

Figure 1: Focus of national drug strategy documents reported up to the end of 2023

The source data for this graphic is available in the source table on this page.

The policy cycle of undertaking an evaluation of an outgoing strategy and developing and adopting a new strategy often takes place over a long period as a result of the complexity of the task and changes in government. Consequently, it is standard practice that strategies are regarded as remaining in force until a new one has been finalised and formally adopted by government, even if this is after the expiry date of the outgoing document.

The evaluation of national drug strategy documents has been gaining momentum, since the first evaluations were published in 2003, and had become a standard practice among the EMCDDA reporting countries by 2010.

Evaluation helps governments in many ways, for example to track implementation progress, gauge a strategy’s continuing relevance, measure inputs and outputs and assess possible impacts. The outcomes from evaluations can be used to make adjustments in active strategies and to develop new ones.

There are many different types of evaluation, and what is most appropriate will depend on factors such as timing, the sort of information required (research questions) and the resources available (for more information see: Evaluating drug policy: a seven-step guide to support the commissioning and managing of evaluations).

The EMCDDA monitors evaluation practices though a typology focused primarily on assessments conducted within the framework of national governments’ drug strategy documents (see Table 3). This incorporates both whole-strategy and targeted evaluation, alongside ongoing monitoring and research aimed at supporting evaluation.

Table 1: Categories used for describing national evaluations
Evaluation type Description
Multi-criteria evaluation A multi-criterion evaluation of a strategy and/or action plan at its mid- or end point
Implementation progress review A review of the actions taken and/or the strategy’s context at its mid- or end point
Targeted evaluation An evaluation or audit of a specific policy or strategy aspect or area
Other approaches Assessment by means of ongoing indicator monitoring, research projects, or regional or local strategy evaluation
Figure 2: National evaluations reported to the EMCDDA by end 2023

The source data for this graphic is available in the source table on this page.

There is often no neat divide between the types of evaluation, and countries may have conducted more than one sort over time. In some countries (e.g. France), evaluations of different projects and responses have long been undertaken and have functioned as assessments of measures outlined in strategies and action plans. Consequently, the map gives a snapshot of the situation reported by EMCDDA countries at the end of 2023.

A final drug strategy evaluation typically takes the form of either a multi-criteria evaluation or an implementation progress review at the end of the strategy’s timeframe. There were 12 multi-criteria evaluations, 10 implementation progress reviews, and 4 targeted evaluations reported as having recently taken place at the end of 2023, while four EMCDDA reporting countries used other approaches, such as a mix of ongoing indicator assessment and research projects.

Examples of national evaluations

Examples of evaluations, where publicly available, provide details about the method used and findings. These reports and overviews can be found in the EMCDDA Document Library. These documents do not, however, represent all evaluations undertaken or the approach followed over time in any country. They are a selection linked to the map for explanatory purposes.

You can access publicly available national evaluation documents below.

Examples of recent national policy evaluation documents
Document name Country Year
Public Health Agency of Sweden (2023) Developments in relation to the ANDTS policy 2022 Sweden
Secretariat of the Government Council for Drug Policy Coordination, Czechia (2022) Summary report on the implementation of Czechia's Addiction Action Plan 2019–22 Czechia
BELSPO (2021) EVADRUG - an evaluation of the Belgian drug policy Belgium
Croatian Institute of Public Health (2021) Evaluation of Guidelines for the psychosocial treatment of drug addiction in the health care, social welfare and prison systems Croatia
Court of Auditors, France (2021) Implementation of the “crack plan” in Paris – audit France
Department of Health, Ireland (2021) Mid term Review of Ireland's National Drug Strategy Ireland
Ministry of Health, Spain (2021) Evaluation of Addictions Action Plan 2018-20 Spain
Ministry of Health, Slovakia (2021) Evaluation of Slovakia's National Anti-Drug Strategy 2013-20 Slovakia
FAFO, Norway (2021) Evaluation of Norway's action plan for the alcohol and drugs field, results report Norway
Ministry of the Interior, Latvia (2021) Information report on the implementation of the Drugs Action Plan 2019-20 Latvia
Abraham, van Dijk, Hofstra and Spapens (2021) Tackling organized drug crime in the Netherlands - policy and implementation Netherlands
Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Finland (2021) Action Plan on Alcohol, Tobacco, Drugs and Gambling - Interim review and measures to be enhanced by 2025 FInland
ZNO and Ministry of Health, Slovenia (2021) Evaluation of Slovenia's National Program in the field of illicit drugs 2014-20 Slovenia
Department of Anti-drug Policies, Italy (2021) Status Quo 2.0 project - management of drug treatment system Italy
Nova IMS (2021) English summary - external evaluation of Portugal's National Plan for the Reduction of Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies 2013–20 Portugal
Nova IMS (2021) Spanish summary - external evaluation of Portugal's National Plan for the Reduction of Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies 2013–20 Portugal
Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Ireland (2021) Public expenditure assessment of Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery strategy Ireland
INSERM, France (2021) Drug consumption rooms evaluation France
Nova IMS (2021) Summary of the external evaluation of Portugal's National Plan for the Reduction of Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies 2013–20 Portugal
Nova IMS (2021) External evaluation of Portugal's National Plan for the Reduction of Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies 2013–20 Portugal

The EMCDDA operates a robust takedown policy — if there is a document which you believe should be removed from this list, please feel free to contact us and let us know. Similarly, while we are actively updating this list, we welcome input and feedback from visitors should there be a publicly available document or resource which you believe should be included here. We may be contacted at policyevaluation.team[a]emcdda.europa.eu — remember to replace the [a] with '@' before sending your email.

Examples of national drug strategies

Examples of national drug strategies, where publicly available, are used by governments to outline their policy approach to illicit drug and, in some cases, other substances (e.g. alcohol, tobacco and medicines) and addictions (e.g. gambling). These government approved and published policy documents can be found in the EMCDDA Document Library. These documents do not, however, represent all national drug policy documents adopted over time in any country. They are a selection linked to the map for explanatory purposes.

Examples of recent national drug strategies
Document name Country Year
General Drug Policy Unit (2023) Belgium’s interfederal strategy for a global and integrated drug policy 2024-25 Belgium
Government of Lithuania (2022) Lithuania’s agenda on drug, tobacco and alcohol control, prevention and harm reduction to 2035 Lithuania
Government of Portugal (2023) Portugal's National Plan for the Reduction of Addictive Behaviours and Dependencies 2030 and Horizon 2024 Action Plan Portugal
Government Council for Addiction Policy Coordination, Czechia (2023) Czechia’s Addiction Policy Action Plan 2023–25 Czechia
Government of Slovenia (2023) Slovenia's National Programme on Illicit Drugs 2023–30 Slovenia
Department of Health, Ireland (2023) Ireland's National Drugs Strategy - Strategic Action Plan 2023-24 Ireland
Government of Malta (2023) Malta's National Drugs Policy 2023-33 Malta
MILDECA (2023) France's interministerial strategy for mobilisation against addictive behaviors 2023-27 France
Government of Croatia (2023) Croatia's National Action Plan on Dependencies 2023-30 Croatia
Government of Latvia (2022) Latvia's alcohol and drug abuse reduction plan 2023-25 Latvia
Ministry of Public Health, Welfare and Sport, the Netherlands (2022) Drug prevention policy Netherlands
Ministry of Justice, the Netherlands (2022) Combatting organised crime strategy, letter to Parliament Netherlands
Government of Latvia (2022) Public Health Guidelines 2021-27 Latvia
Ministry of Justice, the Netherlands (2022) Combatting organised crime, letter to Parliament Netherlands
Government of Romania (2022) Romania's National Drug Action Plan 2022-26 Romania
Government of Romania (2022) Romania's National Drug Strategy 2022-26 Romania
Government of Sweden (2022) Integrated strategy for alcohol, drugs, doping and tobacco and gambling 2022–25 Sweden
Ministry of Health, Spain (2021) Addictions Action Plan 2021-24 (EN) Spain
Government of Finland (2021) Finland's Government Resolution on drug policy 2021–23 FInland
Ministry of the Interior, Latvia (2020) Internal Security Development Plan 2020–30 Latvia

Resources for drug policy evaluation

We will be adding relevant resources and other useful material to this section over time.

Key EMCDDA resources

Other resources

Glossary of drug policy evaluation terms

Below is a list of terms used when discussing drug policy evaluation.

Activities — processes, tools, events, technology and actions that are part of the programme implementation. ese interventions are used to bring about the intended programme changes or results, i.e. the actions taken or work performed to achieve the aims of the intervention.

Added value — the extent to which something happens as a result of an intervention or programme that would not have occurred in the absence of that intervention. Also known as ‘additionality’.

Aim — the purpose of, for example, an intervention or a policy.

Causality — an association between two characteristics that can be demonstrated to be due to cause and e ect, i.e. a change in one causes the change in the other.

Coherence — the extent to which intervention logic is non-contradictory or the extent to which the intervention does not contradict other interventions with similar objectives.

Control group — a group of participants in a study not receiving a particular intervention, used as a comparator to evaluate the effects of the intervention.

Criterion — character, property or consequence of a public intervention on the basis of which a judgement will be formulated.

Data — information; facts that can be collected and analysed in order to gain knowledge or make decisions.

Drug action plan — scheme or programme for detailed speci c actions. It may accompany or be integrated into a drug strategy but typically focuses on a relatively short period
and identi es more detailed actions to implement the strategy, along with timings and responsible parties.

Drug policy — overall philosophy on the matter; position of the government, values
and principles; attitude, direction. It encompasses the whole system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action and funding priorities concerning (illicit) drugs put into e ect by governments.

Drug strategy — unifying theme; framework for determination, coherence and direction. It is generally a document, usually time bound, containing objectives and priorities alongside broad actions, and may identify, at a top level, the parties responsible for implementing them.

Effectiveness — the fact that expected e ects have been obtained and that objectives have been achieved.

Effciency — the extent to which the desired effects are achieved at a reasonable cost. Equity — the extent to which different e ects (both positive and negative) are distributed fairly between different groups and/or geographical areas.

Evaluation — a periodic assessment of a programme or project’s relevance, performance, e ciency and impact in relation to overall aims and stated objectives. It is a systematic tool which provides a rigorous evidence base to inform decision-making.

Evaluation criteria — aspects of the intervention which will be subject to evaluation. Criteria should t the evaluation question. If all the criteria are put together, they should account for a good and complete measurement. Examples are relevance, efficiency and effectiveness.

Evaluation question — question asked by the steering group in the terms of reference and which the evaluation team will have to answer.

Evaluation team — the people who perform the evaluation. An evaluation team selects and interprets secondary data, collects primary data, carries out analyses and produces the evaluation report. An evaluation team may be internal or external.

Evidence-based — conscientiously using current best evidence in making decisions. Evidence-informed policy — an approach to policy decisions that aims to ensure that decision-making is well informed by the best available research evidence.

Ex ante evaluation — an evaluation that is performed before implementation of an intervention. is form of evaluation helps to ensure that an intervention is as relevant and coherent as possible. Its conclusions are meant to be integrated when decisions are made. It provides the relevant authorities with a prior assessment of whether or not issues have been diagnosed correctly, whether or not the strategy and objectives proposed are relevant, whether or not there is incoherence between them or in relation to other related policies and guidelines, and whether or not the expected impacts are realistic.

Ex nunc(or interim) evaluation — an evaluation that is performed during implementation. Ex post (or final) evaluation — evaluation of an intervention after it has been completed. It strives to understand the factors of success or failure.

External evaluation — evaluation of a public intervention by people not belonging to the administration responsible for its implementation.

Feasibility — the extent to which valid, reliable and consistent data are available for collection.

Impact — fundamental intended or unintended change and direct or indirect consequences occurring in organisations, communities or systems as a result of programme activities within 7 to 10 years, i.e. long-term consequences of the intervention.

Impact (or outcome) evaluation — evaluates whether the observed changes in outcomes (or impacts) can be attributed to a particular policy or intervention, i.e. determining whether or not a causal relationship exists between an intervention or policy and changes in the outcomes.

Indicator — quantitative or qualitative factor or variable that provides a simple and reliable means to measure achievement, to help assess the performance of a policy/intervention (to reflect the changes connected to an intervention, an output accomplished, an effect obtained or a context variable — economic, social or environmental).

Input — financial, human, material, organisational and regulatory means mobilised for the implementation of an intervention.

Internal evaluation — evaluation of a public intervention by an evaluation team belonging to the administration responsible for the programme.

Joint evaluation — evaluation of a public intervention by an evaluation team composed of both internal (people belonging to the administration responsible for the programme) and external evaluators.

Maryland Scientific Methods Scale — a system that provides an overview of evaluation designs.

Method — complete plan of an evaluation team’s work. A method is an ad hoc procedure, specially constructed in a given context to answer one or more evaluative questions. Some evaluation methods are of low technical complexity, while others include the use of several tools.

Monitoring — a continuing function that uses systematic collection of data on speci ed indicators to provide management and the main stakeholders of an ongoing intervention with indications of the extent of progress, achievement of objectives and progress in the use of allocated funds.

Need — problem or difficulty affecting concerned groups, which the public intervention aims to solve or overcome.

Norm — level that the intervention has to reach to be judged successful, in terms of a given criterion. For example, the cost per job created was satisfactory compared with a national norm based on a sample of comparable interventions.

Outcomes — the likely or achieved short- and medium-term effects of an intervention’s outputs, relating to the aim of the intervention. Specific changes in programme participants’ behaviour, knowledge, skills, status and level of functioning.

Outputs — direct products of programme activities which may include types, levels and targets of services to be delivered by the programme.

Process evaluation — one that focuses on programme implementation and operation. A process evaluation could address programme operation and performance.

Programme logic model — picture of how a policy/intervention works — the theory and assumptions underlying the programme. A programme logic model links outcomes (both short- and long-term) with programme activities/processes and the theoretical assumptions/principles of the programme.

Public managers — public (sometimes private) organisations responsible for implementing an intervention.

Random assignment — making a comparison group as similar as possible to the intervention group, to rule out external influences; randomly allocating individuals to either the intervention group or the control group.

Randomised controlled trial (RCT) — an experiment in which two or more interventions, possibly including a control intervention or no intervention, are compared by being randomly allocated to participants.

Relevance — the extent to which an intervention’s objectives are pertinent to the needs, problems and issues to be addressed.

Scope — precise definition of the evaluation object, i.e. what is being evaluated.

Stakeholders — individuals, groups or organisations with an interest in the evaluated intervention or in the evaluation itself, particularly authorities that decided on and nanced the intervention, managers, operators and spokespersons of the public concerned.

Steering group — the committee or group of stakeholders responsible for guiding the evaluation team.

Sustainability — the continuation of bene ts from an intervention after major development assistance has been completed; the probability of continued long-term benefits.

Terms of reference — the terms of reference de ne the work and the schedule that must be carried out by the evaluation team. They recall the regulatory framework and specify the scope of an evaluation. They state the main motives for an evaluation and the questions asked. They sum up available knowledge and outline an evaluation method. They describe the distribution of the work and responsibilities among the people participating in an evaluation process. They fix the schedule and, if possible, the budget. They specify the qualifications required of candidate teams as well as the criteria to be used to select an evaluation team.

Tool — standardised procedure used to fulfil a function of evaluation (e.g. regression analysis or questionnaire survey). Evaluation tools serve to collect quantitative or qualitative data, synthesise judgement criteria, explain objectives, estimate impacts, and so on.

Validity — the extent to which the indicator accurately measures what is purports to measure.

Value for money — a value for money evaluation is a judgement as to whether the outcomes achieved are sufficient given the level of resources used to achieve them. It generally includes an assessment of the cost of running the programme, its e ciency (the outputs it achieves for its inputs) and its effectiveness (the extent to which it has achieved expected outcomes) and uses analytical approaches such as cost-effectiveness or cost– benefit analyses.

Source tables

The data used to generate infographics and charts on this page may be found below.

Table: Focus of national drug strategy documents reported up to the end of 2023
Country Country code Focus
Belgium BE Broader focus
Bulgaria BG Illicit drugs focus
Czechia CZ Broader focus
Denmark DK Illicit drugs focus
Germany DE Broader focus
Estonia EE Illicit drugs focus
Ireland IE Broader focus
Greece EL Illicit drugs focus
Spain ES Broader focus
France FR Broader focus
Croatia HR Broader focus
Italy IT Illicit drugs focus
Cyprus CY Broader focus
Latvia LV Broader focus
Lithuania LT Broader focus
Luxembourg LU Broader focus
Hungary HU Illicit drugs focus
Malta MT Illicit drugs focus
Netherlands NL Illicit drugs focus
Austria AT Broader focus
Poland PL Broader focus
Portugal PT Broader focus
Romania RO Illicit drugs focus
Slovenia SI Illicit drugs focus
Slovakia SK Illicit drugs focus
Finland FI Broader focus
Sweden SE Broader focus
Türkiye TR Illicit drugs focus
Norway NO Broader focus
Table: National evaluations reported to the EMCDDA by end 2023
Country Country code Type of evaluation
Belgium BE Multi-criterion evaluation
Bulgaria BG Other approaches
Czechia CZ Implementation progress review
Denmark DK Targeted evaluation
Germany DE Targeted evaluation
Estonia EE Multi-criterion evaluation
Ireland IE Implementation progress review
Greece EL Other approaches
Spain ES Implementation progress review
France FR Multi-criterion evaluation
Croatia HR Targeted evaluation
Italy IT Implementation progress review
Cyprus CY Multi-criterion evaluation
Latvia LV Implementation progress review
Lithuania LT Multi-criterion evaluation
Luxembourg LU Multi-criterion evaluation
Hungary HU Multi-criterion evaluation
Malta MT Targeted evaluation
Netherlands NL Multi-criterion evaluation
Austria AT Other approaches
Poland PL Implementation progress review
Portugal PT Multi-criterion evaluation
Romania RO Implementation progress review
Slovenia SI Multi-criterion evaluation
Slovakia SK Implementation progress review
Finland FI Multi-criterion evaluation
Sweden SE Multi-criterion evaluation
Türkiye TR Implementation progress review
Norway NO Multi-criterion evaluation
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