Opioid Epidemic Ravages Europe


Opioids may have played a role in up to 79% of deaths in Europe in 2015.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recently released a report that highlights the effects of an increase in overdose-related deaths, availability of new illicit drugs, and the health threat from synthetic opioids.

The European Drug Report 2017: Trends and Developments in Brussels explores the revision of cannabis policies and the rate of substance use among school aged children.

“The impact of the drugs problem continues to be a significant challenge for European societies. Over 93 million Europeans have tried an illicit drug in their lives and overdose deaths continue to rise for the third year in a row,” said Dimitris Avramopoulos, European commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship. “I am especially concerned that young people are exposed to many new and dangerous drugs.”

As more synthetic drugs are introduced, the risk of overdose increases. In the United States, there have been increasingly more overdoses related to fentanyl, which is up to 50 times as potent as heroin.

“Already 25 highly potent synthetic opioids were detected in Europe between 2009 and 2016, of which only small volumes are needed to produce many thousands of doses, thus posing a growing health threat,” Avramopoulos said. “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 [sic] crime groups in Europe and beyond.’

For the third consecutive year, the number of overdoses in Europe increased. In 2015, there were 8441 overdose-related deaths, which is an increase of 6% from 2014, according to the report. The uptick in overdoses was observed in nearly all age groups.

Opioids were detected in approximately 79% of deaths in 2015. Interestingly, methadone and buprenorphine, which are typically used to treat opioid misuse disorder, were also found in toxicology reports.

In Denmark, Ireland, France, and Croatia, the number of methadone-related deaths outpaced heroin-related deaths, according to the study. These findings suggest that there needs to be additional measures put into place to prevent misuse, according to the authors.

To combat the high number of overdoses, 7 European countries have implemented safe drug consumption rooms and 10 countries have started take-home naloxone programs.

The emergence of new psychoactive substances (NPS) has become a public health crisis in Europe. In 2016 alone, there were 66 NPS detected, according to the study.

Since 98 were detected in 2015, it would appear that the rate is slowing down, but the overall availability of the drugs remains high. At the end of 2016, the EMCDDA monitored more than 620 NPS compared with 350 in 2013, according to the report.

The authors hypothesize that the slowed rate of detection could be due to new legislation and measures taken against laboratories manufacturing NPS.

“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 Alexis Goosdeel, director of EMCDDA. “But despite positive signs of a slowdown in product innovation, overall availability remains high.”

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