Overdose deaths up across Europe

The total number of drug overdose deaths in Europe has risen for the third consecutive year, according to EMCDDA’s European drug report 2017. There were 8,441 fatal overdoes, ‘mainly related to heroin and other opioids’, in the 30 countries covered by the report in 2015, compared to 7,950 the previous year.

Increases were reported in almost all age groups, the document states, while methadone-related deaths exceeded heroin-related deaths in Ireland, France, Croatia and Denmark, underlining the need for ‘good clinical practice’ to prevent diversion. However, there are now take-home naloxone programmes in nine EU countries plus Norway, the report points out, as well as drug consumption rooms in six plus Norway.

The report also draws attention to the growing threat posed by potent synthetic opioids, despite them ‘representing a small share of the market’. Twenty-five new synthetic opioids have been detected in Europe since 2009, it says, 18 of them fentanyls (DDN, June, page 8).

While previous years’ European drug reports have highlighted the exponential increases in NPS being detected for the first time via the EU Early Warning System (EWS), 2016 saw the number fall to 66 from the previous year’s 95. Although this signifies a ‘slowing of the pace’, it still represents more than one per week and NPS remain ‘a considerable public health challenge’, the document stresses, with more than 620 now being monitored by EMCDDA. New legislation, including blanket bans like the UK’s Psychoactive Substances Act, and the targeting of NPS labs in China may have contributed to the slowdown, it says.

New commercially regulated cannabis markets in countries outside Europe are ‘fuelling innovation’ and development of products such as vaporisers and e-liquids that could eventually affect patterns of use in the EU, the report adds, while cocaine purity and availability is also rising across the continent.

‘Our latest findings suggest that responses to new psychoactive substances, such as new legislation and measures targeting the high-street shops that sell these products, may be having an impact on the emergence of NPS on the market,’ said EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘But despite positive signs of a slowdown in product innovation, overall availability remains high. We are seeing sales of these drugs becoming more clandestine, with transactions moving online or onto the illicit drug market, and we have witnessed the recent appearance of some highly potent substances, which have been linked to deaths and serious intoxications’.

European drug report 2017: trends and developments at www.emcdda.europa.eu