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Press Release

Press release

Latest drug trends across Europe

10 November 2010

HRB compares situation in Ireland with European findings. The Annual Report 2010 from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) will be published today. The Health Research Board (HRB) provides the Irish figures for the EMCDDA report. This media brief compares the situation in Ireland with that in Europe.

Offering effective treatment to those with substance use problems is central to Europe's response to drugs. According to the EMCDDA, the quality and quantity of care available to drug users has improved considerably since the 1990s, when better access to drug treatment became a drug policy priority. The report today highlights that while progress has been made in this area; challenges in the area of treatment provision remain.

At least one million people across Europe are treated for problem drug use every year, of whom 14,518 (1.4%) are treated in Ireland. People are treated for harmful use or dependence on one or more drugs. As with many of the 'EU 15 countries', or western Europe, opiates (mainly heroin) are the most common drug for which people seek treatment in Ireland, while cannabis is the most common drug used among the general population here.

The situation with respect to each drug is presented below.

Opiates (mainly heroin)

European situation

  • The percentage of problem opiate users in opiate substitution treatment, mainly methadone, varies from less than 10% in some member states to more than 50% in other states.
  • The estimated waiting times for such treatment varied across Europe. In Bulgaria, Greece and Poland people wait for more than one year to commence treatment. Among heroin users entering treatment, a decline in the proportion of injectors was reported in 13 countries between 2002 and 2007. Latest data show that under half (42 %) of those entering treatment for heroin use in Europe report 'usually injecting' their drug, while the proportion for those entering for the first time is lower (38%)
  • More than 85% of fatal overdoses in Europe are due to opiates.
  • The number of heroin seizures increased across Europe in 2008.

Irish comparison

  • 55% of problem opiate users were in opiate treatment in 2007; the latest year for which we have an estimate.
  • People living in Dublin wait for substitution treatment for an average of between two weeks and six months depending on where they live.  People living outside Dublin wait between one month and two years depending on where they live.
  • 39% of those entering treatment in Ireland reported injecting drug use while 22% of new cases reported injecting drug use. The proportion of injector cases has decreased since 2003.
  • In 2007, 74% of drug-related deaths (poisonings) were due to opiates alone or opiates in conjunction with another drug(s). ·
  • In Ireland there was a steady rise in heroin seizures between 2004 and 2007. At its peak in 2007, there were 1,698 heroin seizures, while in 2009 there were 1,455 heroin seizures ­­­- a 14% reduction.

European situation

  • Denmark, Spain, Ireland, Italy and the UK are classified as high prevalence countries for cocaine use.
  • In 2008 around 70,000 people entered drug treatment for problem cocaine use across Europe and one quarter of all new entrants reported cocaine as their primary drug.
  • There are about one thousand cocaine-related deaths in Europe each year. The number of cocaine related deaths increased in the Spain, the UK and Ireland.
  • The number of cocaine seizures increased across Europe in 2008.

Irish comparison

  • The latest National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) general population survey in 2006/7 reported 1.7% of adults used cocaine in the year prior to the survey and that the percentage was higher among young adults (3.1%) and men (2.3%). Ireland is ranked fifth for cocaine use in the EU.
  • In 2008, 761 of those who entered treatment reported cocaine as their primary drug in Ireland and 17% of all new entrants to treatment reported cocaine as their primary drug.
  • In Ireland the number of cocaine deaths increased from 10 in 2003 to 63 in 2007.
  • The number of cocaine seizures increased from 566 in 2003 to 1,749 in 2007 and decreased considerably (by 64%) in 2008 (1,010) and 2009 (635).

European situation

  • In Europe the use of amphetamines is stable. Amphetamine use is concentrated in the Nordic Region, the Baltic States and the Czech Republic.

Irish comparison

  • Amphetamine use in Ireland is uncommon and the proportion of adults in the NACD general population survey who reported using amphetamines in the year prior to the survey remained stable at 0.4%, when compared with the previous survey in 2002/2003.
  • On average, 11 cases per year enter treatment for problem amphetamine use as their primary drug between 2003 and 2008.
  • The number of amphetamine seizures peaked in 2006 at 277 and has decreased steadily since then to 72 in 2009.

European situation

  • Ecstasy use across Europe has remained steady with two million (1.8%) young adults using the drug in the past year. The Czech Republic has the highest prevalence for ecstasy use, with 7.8% of young adults reporting ecstasy use in the 2008.

Irish comparison

  • The NACD 2006/7 general population survey reported that 1.2% of the general population used ecstasy in the year prior to the survey placing Ireland alongside the Netherlands, Estonia and Cyprus.
  • In Ireland, ecstasy use remained stable with 2.4% of young adults reporting use of the drug in the year prior to the survey, compared to 2.3% in the 2002/2003 survey.
  • Recent ecstasy use was higher among young adults (2.4%) and men (1.8%).
  • The number of treated cases who reported ecstasy as a main problem drug decreased considerably, from 139 in 2003 to 103 in 2008.
  • There were ninety ecstasy seizures in 2009 compared to more than 700 seizures in the preceding six years.

European situation

  • Levels of Cannabis use differ greatly between European countries with the highest prevalence of 'previous year use' among young adults in the Czec Republic (28.2%) being more than 30 times greater than the lowest prevalence rate in Romania (0.9%)
  • Cannabis use in the last year is highest in the Czech Republic and Italy.

Irish comparison

  • Ireland is placed in the mid-range for cannabis use alongside Denmark, Estonia and Slovakia. The NACD 2006/7 general population survey reported that 6.3% of the general population used cannabis in the year prior to the survey. Recent cannabis users are mainly young (10.4%) or male (8.5%).
  • The number of cannabis users attending treatment increased from 991 in 2003 to 1,191 in 2008 and represent 19% of clients in treatment.
  • The number of cannabis seizures more than halved in 2009 (2,314) when compared to 2008 (5,662).
New psychoactive substances

European situation

  • In the last eight years, selling new psychoactive substances in head shops or on line emerged as a new phenomenon across Europe.
  • In most of Europe these substances were sold mainly on line.
  • In 2008 and 2009, the types of drugs experienced across Europe included cathinones, synthetic cannabis and piperazines. During 2010 other drugs were introduced for sale in response to controls on cathinones; these include naphyrone, synthetic cocaine and other stimulants.
  • On 10 October 2010, the Council of the European Commission instructed Member States to take the necessary measures, in accordance with their national law, to submit 4-methylmethcathinone (mephedrone) to control measures and criminal penalties.

Irish comparison

  • In Ireland these substances were mainly, but not exclusively, sold through a network of retail outlets.
  • Ireland has had notable success in limiting the sale of new psychoactive substances. This was achieved through the combined efforts of a number of government departments and statutory agencies.
  • A Garda (police) inventory of head shops in Ireland indicated that, at their peak in early 2010, there were 113 head shops in the country, with at least one in every county. The NACD are currently assessing the number of websites selling psychoactive substances to customers in Ireland.
  • On the 11 May 2010, the Irish government banned a number of psychoactive substances sold in head shops and on line. This was in response to public pressure and reported health effects.
  • The substances banned were synthetic cannabinoids, benzylpiperazine (BZP) and other piperazine derivatives, as well as six named cathinones (mephedrone, methylone, methedrone, butylone, flephedrone and MDPV).
  • On 11 May 2010 (the date of the government ban on a range of head shop products) there were 102 shops, 11 having closed for a variety of reasons. On 12 May, the Gardaí visited all head shops and warehouses and seized all banned products. By 13 May there were 34 head shops selling psychoactive substances
  • In early August the number increased to 39 shops. These shops were selling Naphyrone, 2-Aminoindan, 1,3-dimethylamylamine or DMAA, Dimethocaine and AM-694 among others.
  • Following the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, the gardaí visited head shops in early September, only 19 were open and none were selling psychoactive substances.
Older drug users in treatment

European Situation

  • One fifth of treated drug users are aged 40 or over.
  • One fifth of deaths due to poisonings were among individuals aged 40 or over.
  • There are no specialised services for older drug users in Europe.

Irish comparison

  • The proportion of drug users aged 40 and over in treatment has increased from 3.1% of all treated drug users in 1998 to 9.4% in 2008. This is lower than the 20% experienced across Europe.
  • The lower rate in Ireland may be explained by the fact that drug use is a relatively new phenomenon in Ireland compared to other countries in Western Europe. 
  • Heroin is the most common primary drug reported by older drug users in treatment in Ireland.
  • The proportion of drug users aged 40 and over in methadone maintenance treatment has increased from 4% in 1994 to 19% in 2008.
  • Between 1998 and 2007, one-fifth (22%) of the total deaths due to poisonings recorded in Ireland were among individuals aged 40 and over. This is similar to the experience across Europe.
  • There are no specialised services for older drug users in Ireland.

A copy of the EMCDDA Annual report is available at the link below. Data presented in the Annual report 2010 relate to 2008 or the last year available.


For more information contact:
Gillian Markey, Communications Manager
Health Research Board
m 00353 87 2288514
t 00353 1 2345103
e gmarkey(at)

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