Representation in United Kingdom

European Drug Report 2017: The UK leads the sad statistic of drug overdose deaths in Europe



For a third year in row deaths from drugs overdose in Europe have increased. The UK and Germany together account for around half of these deaths. The data comes from the annual European Drug Report 2017 released this week by the European Commission and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).


A total of 8,441 overdose deaths, mainly related to heroin and other opioids, are estimated to have occurred in Europe in 2015, a 6% increase on the estimated 7,950 deaths in 2014. Increases were reported in almost all age groups. The UK accounts for 31% of these or 2,655 deaths. Germany is a distant second with 15%.

The most recent data shows an increase in the number of heroin-related deaths in Europe, notably in the UK. In England and Wales, heroin or morphine was mentioned in 1,200 deaths registered in 2015, a 26% increase on the previous year and a massive 57% increase compared to 2013. Heroin or its metabolites have been present in the majority of fatal overdoses reported in Europe as well.

Stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA and cathinones are implicated in a smaller number of overdose deaths in Europe, although their significance varies by country. In England and Wales, deaths involving cocaine increased from 169 in 2013 to 320 in 2015, although many of these are thought to be heroin overdoses among people who also used crack.

Presenting the report, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said:

"The impact of the drugs problem continues to be a significant challenge for European societies. The annual European Drug Report gives us the necessary analysis, guidance and tools to tackle this threat together across Europe, not just to protect the health of our citizens, but also to stop huge profits from drugs ending up in the pockets of organised crime groups in Europe and beyond."

The report finds that the three European countries with the highest volume of drug online sales are Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, with stimulants, in particular MDMA and cocaine, accounting for most of the sales revenue.

According to the report, over one million seizures of illicit drugs are reported annually in Europe. In 2015, more than 60% of all drug seizures in the EU occurred in just three countries: Spain, France and the United Kingdom.

A 2016 analysis found the highest mass loads of benzoylecgonine — the main metabolite of cocaine — in cities in Belgium, Spain and the UK and very low levels in the majority of eastern European cities. Spain, Italy and the UK account for three quarters (74%) of all reported treatment entries related to cocaine in Europe. In 2015, 7,400 people entering treatment in Europe reported primary crack cocaine use. The UK accounts for almost two thirds (4,800) of this group.

Five countries, including the UK, account for three quarters (76%) of the estimated high-risk opioid users in the EU. The UK recorded the highest number of high-risk opioid users in 2015 with 330,445.

While a majority of countries reported decreases in injection-related HIV cases between 2014 and 2015, Germany, Ireland and the UK reported rises to levels not seen for 7 to 8 years. In Ireland and the UK, this was in part related to localised outbreaks of new HIV infections among people who inject drugs. The UK recorded 182 HIV diagnoses attributed to injections in 2015.

Interventions to prevent overdoses in Europe include supervised drug consumption room (DCRs) and the provision of ‘take-home’ naloxone (a drug blocking the effects of opioid) to opioid users, their peers and families. DCRs now operate in six EU countries but not the UK. Take-home naloxone programmes exist in nine EU countries, including the UK. These programmes allow the use of naloxone in non-clinical settings, such as hostels and facilitate the distribution of naloxone kits to those at risk of overdose and to their families and carers.

This year’s report also compares long-term patterns in smoking and drinking habits among European and American students (15–16 years). Both have been on the decline on the two sides of the Atlantic. In the EU, smoking among students has declined by a third in the last 16 years – from over 35% in 1999 to under 25% in 2015 – while heavy drinking has gone down only slightly from 40% in 1999 to 37% in 2015.

The annual European Drug Report provides a comprehensive analysis of recent trends in drug use across Europe, including developments in the European drug market, drug use among young Europeans and the threats posed by new substances.

More information

UK report