This content is not available in your region

Opioids responsible for most drug-related deaths in Europe, says UN Drugs Report

Access to the comments Comments
By Alice Tidey
Drugs confiscated for burning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 26, 2019.
Drugs confiscated for burning in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 26, 2019.   -   Copyright  REUTERS/Samrang Pring
  • About 271 million people — 5.5% of the world's population aged 15–64 — used drugs in 2016, according to the latest UN Drugs Report;
  • Opioids consumption in 2017 surged by 56%, accounting for two-thirds of deaths attributed to drug use disorders;
  • Cocaine production reached an all-time high in 2017, while opium poppy cultivation declined slightly due to a drought in Afghanistan.

Opioids, in particular heroin, remain the main drug for which people receive treatment in Europe with traces of it also present in the majority of the region's fatal overdoses, the United Nations' Drugs and Crime Agency (UNODC) revealed in its latest annual report.

Thirty-seven percent of all admissions to specialised drug treatment in Europe in 2016 was to do with the use of opioids, according to the report.

Heroin was the main cause but the increasing use of non-medical pharmaceutical opioids in Western and Central Europe also contributed.

The report flagged that the last decade has seen the expansion of a dynamic market for synthetic drugs and non-medical use of prescription medicines and that these new substances, and their potential combinations, pose a greater risk.

READ MORE: European agency warns about 'uberisation' of drug market

In fact, heroin or its metabolites, often in combination with other substances, are present in the majority of fatal overdoses in Europe, with the most recent data showing an increase in the number of heroin-related deaths.

In the UK, which accounts for one-third of all overdose deaths in Europe, 46% (1,164) of the fatalities from drug use recorded in England and Wales in 2017 involved heroin and morphine.

Overall, an estimated 53.4 million people worldwide used opioids at last once in 2017, a massive 56% jump from the previous year's estimate.

Ecstasy and cocaine on the rise

Meanwhile, the use of ecstasy, which had stabilised between 2007 and 2012, appears to be increasing again in Europe with high-purity powder and crystalline forms of the drug becoming more-readily available and commonly-used.

Wastewater analysis in some Western and Central European countries also suggest an increase in cocaine consumption.

READ MORE: Shrimps, drugs and rocks ‘n’ blow: Cocaine found in UK river wildlife

Coca bush cultivation and manufacture of cocaine reached a record high in 2017, according to UNODC, with the production of the drug 50% higher than a decade ago and 25% higher than the previous year. But increased international cooperation has also led to a 74% jump in the amount of cocaine seized over the past decade.

In Europe, 171 tonnes of illegal substances — more than three-quarters of which cocaine — was seized in 2017.

Eastern and South-Eastern-Europe were also found to have high proportions of the populations aged-15-64 who inject drugs, with rates almost four times higher than the global average.

People who inject drugs are 22 times more likely than the general population to be living with HIV, accounting for 9% of new HIV infections globally.

Watch the Good Morning Europe interview which focuses on Cannabis in the player above

Want more news?