Migration and Home Affairs

EU's response to drugs

EU 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.

In 2015 the Commission adopted a report on progress in the EU's 2013-2020 Drugs Strategy and 2013-2016 Action Plan on Drugs. In 2016, with the support of an external contractor, the Commission conducted an evaluation on the implementation of the EU Drugs Strategy (2013-2020) and Action Plan on Drugs (2013-2016) (annexes). The different steps of the evaluation and all relevant documents can be consulted online.

On 15 March 2017 the Commission published a Communication on the evaluation of the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan which included a proposal for a new Action Plan on drugs for 2017-2020. This Communication is accompanied by a Commission Staff Working Document which explains the methodology and findings of the evaluation. The Council of the EU adopted the new EU Action Plan on Drugs 2017-2020 officially on 20 June 2017.

Building on the findings of the evaluation of the EU Drugs Strategy for 2013-2020 and the Action Plan for 2013-2016, the new Action Plan on Drugs 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.

Evidence-based policy

European drugs control policy is 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.

In 2016 the Commission published the results of a study on alternatives to coercive sanctions (ACS) as response to drug law offences and drug-related crimes. The study maps alternatives to coercive sanctions for drug law offences and drug-related crimes that are available under the law in each EU Member State and describes the use of these sanctions in practice. A review of international research on the effectiveness of ACS in reducing reoffending and drug use complements the study. You can read the study in English and an executive summary in German or French. On 1st March 2017 and on invitation of the Commission, experts from EU Member States discussed, in a one-day meeting in Brussels, the findings of the study and possible ways forward. The meeting allowed defining a set of practical and forward-looking conclusions.

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 2016, 66 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 2016, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) was monitoring more than 620 new psychoactive substances. Even if the pace at which new substances are being introduced may be slowing, the overall number of substances available on the market continues to grow.

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 through Council Decision 2005/387/JHA on the information exchange, risk assessment and control of new psychoactive substances. 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. So far, 20 new psychoactive substances were subjected to control measures by Council decisions

Given the rapid rise of new psychoactive substances, the system set up in 2005 was no longer considered effective and fast enough. Therefore, in 2013, the Commission adopted a package of legislative proposals to enable the EU to act swifter and more effectively to address new psychoactive substances, which was – after the completion of the inter-institutional negotiations – adopted in November 2017.

The new rules to tackle the increasing threats from new psychoactive substances are included in the following legislative acts:

  • Directive (EU) 2017/2103 amending Council Framework Decision 2004/757/JHA in order to include new psychoactive substances in the definition of 'drug' and repealing Council decision 2005/387/JHA
  • Regulation (E) 2017/2101 amending 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 will 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 will be 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.

Getting civil society on board

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.