Migration and Home Affairs

Drugs policy


EU's response to drugs - Strategy and Action Plan

The European Union and the Member States have developed together, over the past two decades, a European approach to addressing drugs sustainably. This approach is enshrined in the EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 and two consecutive four-year Action Plans on Drugs, the first one covering the period 2013-2016 and the second one covering 2017-2020.

The Strategy is structured around two policy areas: drug demand reduction and drug supply reduction, and three cross-cutting themes: (a) coordination, (b) international cooperation and (c) information, research, monitoring and evaluation.

Building on the findings of the evaluation of the EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-2020 and the Action Plan for 2013-2016, the EU Action Plan on Drugs 2017-2020 provides a strengthened response to the newly-emerging health and security challenges in the area of illicit drug use and trafficking. While maintaining and updating the core policy areas and cross-cutting themes of the overall EU Drugs Strategy, the new Action Plan identifies new priority areas for action, including improved monitoring of new psychoactive substances (NPS), as well as the use of new communication technologies for prevention of drug abuse and evidence gathering on the potential connection between drug trafficking and financing of terrorist groups and activities, migrant smuggling and trafficking in human beings.

New Psychoactive Substances

The emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) over the last decade has posed a major challenge to drug policy. New psychoactive substances mimic the effects of "conventional" drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin. They are on sale openly on websites and high streets, under a variety of names, often with no ingredients listed on the packet or with erroneous information such as bath salts, incense or plant food. This makes new psychoactive substances extremely dangerous and makes them a public health and safety problem.

In 2017, 51 new psychoactive substances (NPS) were detected for the first time in the EU, which is a small decline after a peak in 2015 with approximately 100 detected new substances. By the end of 2017, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) was monitoring almost 700 new psychoactive substances.

Since 2005 a system is in place to detect new substances on the market and a mechanism to assess their risks and put those substances which are harmful under control across the EU. Based on a risk assessment made by the EMCDDA, the Commission presents a proposal to the Council for a decision to ban harmful new psychoactive substances.

Given the rapid rise of new psychoactive substances, the system set up in 2005 was no longer considered effective and fast enough. Therefore, new rules were adopted in 2017 and became fully applicable on 23 November 2018. Directive (EU) 2017/2103 amended Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA and repealed Council decision 2005/387/JHA. Regulation (EU) 2017/2101 amended Regulation (EC) No 1920/2006 as regards information exchange on, and an early warning system and risk assessment procedure for new psychoactive substances.

The new rules ensure that the EU has effective tools to take swifter action to ban the most dangerous of these substances from the EU drugs markets. This is due to shorter deadlines and more streamlined procedures. The faster action will lead to a better protection of citizens in the EU, to prevent serious health damages and deaths, in particular of our youth as they are the ones most prone to try out these new substances. The new rules are also strengthening the role of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which hosts the Early Warning System working 7 days/week and 24 hours/day to allow the sharing of information among Member States.

International cooperation

The international framework for regulating the production, export, import, distribution, trade, use and possession of illicit drugs is defined by three United Nations Conventions (30 March 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs as amended by the 1972 Protocol; 21 February 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances; 20 December 1988 UN Convention against the Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances). Most UN countries are party to these conventions and have introduced drug control measures.

The EU's approach on cooperation with third countries on drugs focuses on specific drug trafficking routes. The EU conducts regular dialogues on drugs with the Latin America and the Caribbean, Central Asia, Eastern Partnership, Russia, the US and the Western Balkans.

The EU has agreed on action plans to address drugs with a number of countries and provides assistance for a wide range of drugs-related cooperation projects in Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa along the cocaine trafficking route, and in Afghanistan and Central Asia along the heroin route. The EU is also stepping up cooperation with the Western Balkans and the European Neighbourhood Policy countries to address illicit drugs.

Particular priority is given to technical assistance projects in the candidate countries and potential candidate countries, such as Turkey and the countries of the Western Balkans, to help prepare for their possible accession to the EU.

Cooperation between the EU and other regions or countries has a significant role to play in preventing relevant chemicals (drug precursors) from ending up in the illicit manufacture of dangerous substances, such as ecstasy. The EU has bi-lateral agreements with many countries to prevent the diversion of precursors from licit trade to the illicit manufacture of drugs.

The EU funds major drug-related projects in third countries, mainly via EU Regional cooperation Programmes such as:

2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs and next steps

On 19-21 April 2016 the United Nation's General Assembly held a Special Session (UNGASS) on drugs to review the progress in implementation of the Political Declaration and Plan of Action adopted in 2009, including an assessment of achievements and challenges in countering the world drug problem, in the framework of the three UN Drug Control Conventions and other relevant UN instruments.

UNGASS adopted an Outcome Document that reflects many of the priorities from the EU Common Position – notably the right balance between public health and human rights approaches on the one hand, and efficient policies to counter drugs trafficking on the other. Nevertheless, the EU delivered an EU explanation of position, deeply regretting that the Outcome Document did not address death penalty. This statement was supported by 28 countries that alongside the EU promoted the abolition of the death penalty for drug related offences.

In March 2019, a Ministerial Segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs took place to take stock of the progress made since the Political Declaration and Plan of Action of 2009 and to shape international drug policy for the next decade, building on the UNGASS Outcome Document as the most recent and the most comprehensive international consensus on the world drug problem.


An integrated, balanced and evidence-based policy

European drugs control policy is integrated, balanced and evidence-based. Such evidence is gathered by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), whose core task is to provide sound and comparable information on drugs in Europe, and is thus reflected in their annual European Drug Report, in the biennial European Drug Markets Report issued in collaboration with Europol, as well as in many other reports and publications available on the website of the EMCDDA.

Getting civil society on board

The involvement of civil society, in particular non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is one of the cornerstones of European drugs policy.

The Commission has created a specific consultative body, the Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF), which supports policy formulation and implementation through practical advice. Its constituency changes every 3 years with the possibility of new candidates (it runs currently from 2018 to 2020). The Forum has 45 members, representing different stakeholders and different policy options. The members of the CSFD have drug-related activities as the core focus of their agenda, covering different aspects (e.g. treatment, prevention, social reintegration...). Most of them are established in the form of transnational networks covering a number of eligible countries. Both the geographical balance and the balance between different areas of activities in the drugs field are ensured by the network.

The CSFD is chaired by the European Commission, which finances and organises its meetings, usually once a year, and ensures continuity of its work.

Since its establishment, the Civil Society Forum on Drugs has produced several reports of their activity, available online.

Civil society, in particular non-governmental organisations (NGOs), is an important partner in the implementation of EU drugs policy. The Commission has created a specific consultative body, the Civil Society Forum on Drugs (CSF).

EU financial programmes for drug-related projects

Four EU financial programmes provide funding for drug-related projects between 2014-2020, to help implement the objectives set by the EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 and to foster cross-border cooperation and research on drug issues:

  1. The Justice Programme 2014-2020;
  2. The Internal Security Fund 2014-2020;
  3. The Health Programme 2014-2020;
  4. Horizon 2020.


Drugs in facts and figures

Drugs are a complex social and health problem that affects millions of people in the EU. The human and social costs of drugs addiction are very high. They generate costs for public health (on drug prevention and treatment, healthcare and hospital treatment), public safety, the environment and labour productivity. In many countries around the world, drug trafficking also affects national stability and governance.

The latest trends include:

  • Cocaine is increasingly available and has higher purity, and also there are signs of increased use.
  • Drug production shows signs of increase in Europe, and Internet sales continue to be important.
  • The EU retail drug market is estimated to be worth at least EUR 24 billion a year.
  • Almost 700 New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) are monitored by the Early Warning System, of which more than 350 are available on the market in a given year. The increase of new detections has slowed down with 51 new substances reported in 2017, compared to 101 in 2014.
  • Overdose deaths remain high with over 7000 overdose deaths in 2016.
  • Cannabis is the most widely used drug in Europe.

Drug trafficking

Drug trafficking and drug production remain among the most profitable criminal activities for organised crime groups active in the EU.

  • In 2016, 763 000 seizures of cannabis, the most popular drug in the EU, were reported in the EU
  • Cocaine is the second most widely used drug in the EU: in 2016, EU Member States seized almost 71 tonnes of it
  • Heroin is the most common opioid on the EU drug market with seizures, in 2016, of more than 4 tonnes.

Drugs consumption

  • Almost 90 million Europeans reported having used cannabis at least once in their lifetime.
  • Over 17 million Europeans have used cocaine and around 12 million have used amphetamines.
  • 1.3 million adults are problem opioid users.
  • Illicit drugs are often used in combination with licit substances such as alcohol and tobacco. This is referred to as poly-drug use.

More information is available o in the annual European Drug Report published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Drug Trafficking Routes


Cannabis is produced in over 176 countries. Some 54% of cannabis is grown in the Americas, 26% in Africa (Morocco is main producer), 15% in Asia, 4% in Europe and 1% in Oceania.


Most cocaine in the world is produced in the Andean region (Colombia, Peru and Bolivia). West Africa is a transit and storage zone for trafficking cocaine from South America to Europe, while Latin American countries are increasingly becoming transit and consumer countries as well.

Ecstasy / amphetamines

Ecstasy and amphetamines are mostly produced within the EU. The Netherlands and Belgium are the main producers of ecstasy (with Poland, Estonia and Lithuania running up). The Czech Republic, Slovakia, the Netherlands and Belgium are the main producers of amphetamines. The chemicals used to manufacture synthetic drugs (precursors) originate mostly from outside the EU (China, India).


Most heroin in the world originates from Afghanistan, Myanmar and Laos, with Afghanistan being overwhelmingly the biggest producer. Most heroin reaches Europe via Central Asia and the Balkan routes, starting in Turkey via Bulgaria, FYROM, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia into Italy or Slovenia; via FYROM into Kosovo* or Albania into Greece. A route via Ukraine and Romania is also gaining importance.

Fight against drug trafficking

The EU Policy Cycle for organised and serious international crime brings together law enforcement authorities of the EU Member States, EU institutions and agencies as well as third countries, international organisations and other (public and private) partners to address the threats of organised and serious international crime in a coordinated manner. It includes addressing drug-related issues with the aim of reducing the production and traffic of synthetic drugs, such as ecstasy and LSD; and to disrupt the criminal activities of organisations smuggling cannabis, heroin and cocaine into the EU.

Drug use in the world

  • Around the world, 275 million people between the ages of 15 and 64 used an illicit drug in 2016.
  • Some 31 million people worldwide suffer from drug use disorders or drug dependence.
  • Around 450,000 people died as a result of drug use in 2015, according to WHO. Of those deaths, 167,750 were directly associated with drug use disorders (mainly overdoses). The rest were indirectly attributable to drug use and included deaths related to HIV and hepatitis C acquired through unsafe injecting practices.
  • World-wide there are some 10.6 million people who inject drugs.


International Organisations

The EU cooperates with other international organisations working in the field of illicit drugs and takes coordinated action in the global efforts against drugs: