Shedding light on Europe’s drugs problem

The tragic effects of illegal drug use may be less visible than in the past, but they are still with us, warns EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel
Source: iStock via EMCDDA

By Alexis Goosdeel

Alexis Goosdeel is Director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Lisbon.

22 Apr 2022

Three words sum up Europe’s drugs problem today: Everywhere, Everything, Everyone.

To explain: drugs are readily available in large quantities, almost anything can be a drug, as lines blur between licit and illicit substances, and everyone can be affected, whether directly or indirectly. This combination threatens to bring about a perfect storm of increased substance use and dependency in the years ahead.

This is why I believe it would be a major mistake if EU governments, struggling to control public finances after the COVID-19 pandemic, see drug prevention and treatment programmes as an easy target for cost-cutting. Cuts would hit hardest the most socially and economically vulnerable. This would result in even more personal tragedies and further costs to society, whether this be from treating mental health problems or tackling criminal activity, such as drug production and trafficking.

Instead, we need to ramp up our existing efforts, investing in prevention programmes and linking drug, mental health, and social policies, rather than treating them as separate responses. We must also see drugs in a new light. With ever more substances on the market, the old stereotype of people injecting heroin on the street no longer reflects reality or the problems facing our societies.

“I believe it would be a major mistake if EU governments, struggling to control public finances after the COVID-19 pandemic, see drug prevention and treatment programmes as an easy target for cost-cutting”

Indeed, the world is very different from when the EMCDDA first opened its doors in Lisbon in 1995. Our focus and work continually adapt to the changing landscape and patterns of drug use. At the outset, our sole mission was to be an information-provider: developing the methodologies and networks to collect and analyse key data – largely absent at the time – for policymakers. With strong input from national drug monitoring centres, other EU agencies and international partners, we have successfully accomplished that mission, and continue to do so. But now we also see our role evolving from information-provider to a more proactive service-provider.

Over the years, we have been breaking new ground in innovative monitoring methods to shed light on evolving drug patterns. These range from the macro to the micro: identifying new synthetic and psychoactive substances and changes in cannabis consumption to analysing wastewater in individual European cities or residues from syringes in needle-exchange programmes to detect the latest drug habits.

Increasingly, our approach to Europe’s drug problem is twofold. Firstly, to better understand the impact of long-term trends on the health and safety of the public. Secondly, to detect more quickly any new threats, enabling decision-makers to improve their preparedness and response.

“We must also see drugs in a new light. With ever more substances on the market, the old stereotype of people injecting heroin on the street no longer reflects reality or the problems facing our societies”

Our agency helps European and national policymakers, professionals, and practitioners in the field to tackle the causes and consequences of drug use. It does so by providing factual, objective, reliable and comparable European data as a foundation for their decisions. We work within the framework of the European Union’s carefully balanced drugs policy, with its strategy and action plan. These reflect the EU’s basic values of human and fundamental rights and a belief in consensus, discussion and scientific evidence as the building blocks for policies.

The European Commission recently proposed that the agency be given a more important role in analysing current and future threats from illicit drugs in the EU. This followed an independent external evaluation which recognised the agency as a hub of scientific excellence, both in Europe and internationally, and recommended that our remit be expanded.

That decision rests with the European Parliament and the Council of the EU. Whatever they decide, our ultimate goal remains the same: to maximise our efforts to protect the public and to contribute to a healthier and more secure Europe.


Coming soon:

  • 6 May: Latest EU drug market analyses, EMCDDA-Europol, Brussels.
  • 14 June: European Drug Report 2022, online launch.

For more information, visit: www.emcdda.europa.eu


This article reflects the views of the author and not the views of The Parliament Magazine or of the Dods Group

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