UK has highest rates of drug use in Europe

Drug use in the UK

This is the first post in a blog series based on the findings of the 2015  annual European Drugs Report published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. In it, I explore how drug use in the UK compares with the rest of the continent.

The short answer is that more Britons use drugs than in any other European country.

In the EMCDDA graphic below, each arm of the chart shows the UK’s rank with respect to other reporting countries. The further along each arm the value is (the closer to the edge of the pentagon), the higher the UK ranked for that drug.


To put it in other words:

  • The UK had the highest rate of heroin use in Europe (out of 21 reporting countries)
  • The UK had the highest rate of cocaine use in Europe (out of 26 reporting countries)
  • The UK had the highest rate of ecstasy use in Europe (out of 25 reporting countries)
  • The UK had the 4th highest rate of amphetamine use (out of 25 reporting countries)
  • The UK had the 6th highest rate of cannabis use (out of 27 reporting countries)

Drug treatment in the UK

The EMCDDA also collates information about drug treatment and, fittingly, for the country with the highest use of heroin, the UK also distributed the highest number of syringes (9,239,506 in 2013) and had the highest number of users in substitution treatment (172,513 in the period between 2007 – 2013) of any other European country.

In the same fashion, the UK was also reported to have the largest number of people in treatment (101,753 in 2013).

Drug-related health

The UK is recorded as having one of the lower levels of HIV diagnosis attributed to injecting drug use – 1.8 per million people – compared to 2.74 Italy, 3.1 for Spain, and 22.4 for Greece.

Sadly, the United Kingdom rates sixth worst for the proportion of drug induced deaths, with 44.6 cases per million people, compared to an EU average of 17.3. In more human terms, there were 1858 drug-related deaths for the last year recorded.


These figures are not necessarily as definitive as they look, since the quality and scale of the recording systems in different countries are not necessary to the same standard as British ones. Nevertheless, it is a useful, and rather sobering, experience to look at drugs in Britain in a broader context and the annual nature of these reports makes them more important as a benchmark.

The EMCDDA collects data on a very wide range of issues and if you want to know more about trends in drug use, drug treatment and drug enforcement – in addition to how much we spend on tackling drugs and how we coordinate our response – all this information is available for public view on the UK page of the EMCDDA site.


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