Drug use prevalence and trends
This is the third in a short series of posts on the 2016 European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) annual drugs report. This post summarises some of the report’s key findings about drug use prevalence and trends.
Drug use in Europe now encompasses a wider range of substances than in the past. Among drug users, polydrug consumption is common and individual patterns of use range from experimental to habitual and dependent consumption. Use of all drugs is generally higher among males, and this difference is often accentuated for more intensive or regular patterns of use.
Over 88 million adults, or just over a quarter of the 15- to 64-year-olds in the European Union, are estimated to have tried illicit drugs at some point in their lives. Drug use is more frequently reported by males (54.3 million) than females (34.8 million).
The most commonly used drug is cannabis (51.5 million males and 32.4 million females), with much lower estimates reported for the lifetime use of cocaine (11.9 million males and 5.3 million females), MDMA (9.1 million males and 3.9 million females) and amphetamines (8.3 million males and 3.8 million females).
Levels of lifetime use of cannabis differ considerably between countries, ranging from around four in 10 adults in France and one-third of adults in Denmark and Italy, to less than one in 10 in Bulgaria, Hungary, Malta, Romania and Turkey.
Last year drug use provides a good measure of recent drug use and is largely concentrated among young people (15–34). An estimated 17.8 million young adults used drugs in the last year, with males outnumbering females by a factor of two.
Cannabis users biggest group entering treatment
Overall, the number of people entering treatment for the first time for cannabis problems increased from 45 000 in 2006 to 69 000 in 2014. Among this group, daily users rose from 46 % in 2006 to 54 % in 2014. The causes of the increase in the number of treatment entrants are unclear, but may be linked to changes in the prevalence of cannabis use and intensive use and other factors such as the availability of more harmful and higher-potency products, an increase in cannabis treatment availability and changing treatment referral practices.
Spain, Netherlands and UK largest users of cocaine
Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, although its use is more prevalent in the south and west of Europe. It is estimated that about 2.4 million young adults aged 15 to 34 (1.9 % of this age group) used cocaine in the last year. Many cocaine users consume the drug recreationally, with use highest during weekends and holidays.
Among regular users, a broad distinction can be made between more socially integrated consumers, who often sniff powder cocaine, and marginalised users, who inject cocaine or smoke crack sometimes alongside the use of opioids.
Only Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom report last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of 3 % or more.
Amphetamine use varies between countries
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are both consumed in Europe, although amphetamine is by far the more commonly used.
Methamphetamine consumption has historically been restricted to the Czech Republic and, more recently, Slovakia, although recent years have seen increases in use in other countries.
An estimated 1.3 million (1.0 %) young adults (15–34) used amphetamines during the last year, with the most recent national prevalence estimates ranging from 0.1 % to 2.9 %. The available data suggest that since around 2000, most European countries have experienced a relatively stable situation in respect to trends in use.
In the limited number of countries where it is possible to analyse longer term statistically significant trends, both Spain and the United Kingdom show a decrease in prevalence since 2000. In contrast, Finland has shown a steady increase in prevalence over the same period and now reports one of the highest levels in Europe.
Brits biggest users of ketamine
Last year prevalence of ketamine use among young adults (15–34) was estimated at 0.3 % in Denmark and Spain, and the United Kingdom reported last year ketamine use at 1.6 % among 16- to 24-year-olds, a stable trend since 2008.
Stable treatment demand for heroin
In Europe, the most commonly used illicit opioid is heroin. The average prevalence of high-risk opioid use among adults (15–64) is estimated at 0.4 %, the equivalent of 1.3 million high-risk opioid users in Europe in 2014. At national level, prevalence estimates of high-risk opioid use range from less than 1 to around 8 cases per 1 000 population aged 15–64.
Around 75 % of the estimated high-risk opioid users in the European Union are reported in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Of the 11 countries with repeated estimates of high-risk opioid use between 2008 and 2014, Spain and Turkey show a statistically significant decrease, with stable trends in the other countries.
But increasing use of synthetic opioids
While heroin remains the most commonly used opioid, synthetic opioids are being increasingly misused. In 2014, 18 European countries reported that more than 10 % of all opioid clients entering specialised services presented for problems primarily related to opioids other than heroin; an increase from 11 countries in 2013.
Opioids reported by treatment entrants include methadone, buprenorphine, fentanyl (associated with the recent death of Prince), codeine, morphine, tramadol and oxycodone.
In some countries, non-heroin opioids now represent the most common form of opioid use among treatment entrants. In Estonia, for example, the majority of treatment entrants reporting an opioid as their primary drug were using fentanyl, while in Finland and the Czech Republic, buprenorphine is the most frequently misused non-heroin opioid.
The use of synthetic opioids has long been a concern in North America and is an increasing source of worry in Europe.