Evaluation of drugs strategies provides first results

The EU drugs strategy (2000–04) was evaluated during the reporting period. The Justice and Home Affairs Council of 25–26 October 2004 examined the Commission report on this final evaluation (3). It aimed to assess the extent to which the action plan attained the objectives of the drugs strategy and the impact of both the drugs strategy and the action plan on the drug situation in the EU. It also contributed to the debate leading to the endorsement (4) of a new drugs strategy. The Commission was assisted in its evaluation task by a steering committee (drawn from the Commission, the four Member States holding the presidency during 2003–04, the EMCDDA and Europol). The lack of precise and quantifiable operational objectives represented a serious constraint in this exercise.

The communication on the final evaluation and its annexes (5) highlighted the main achievements in the drugs field at national and EU level and the areas where further progress is needed. It emphasised that progress had been made towards reducing the incidence of drug-related health problems [including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, hepatitis] and the number of drug-related deaths (target 2 of the EU drugs strategy), and, in particular, in improving the availability of treatment (target 3). Regarding target 1, reducing drug use, no significant progress was observed. Similarly, no decrease in the availability of drugs was found (target 4). Nevertheless, targets 4 and 5, taken together, appeared to be a catalyst for several EU-level initiatives that have strengthened law enforcement measures against drug trafficking and supply. During the period of the plan, several major initiatives emerged to combat money laundering (target 6.1) and to prevent the diversion of precursors (target 6.2), in particular through the amendment of Community legislation on the control of trade in precursors.

The communication also underlined the need for further research, for instance on the biomedical, psychosocial and other factors underlying drug use and addiction, especially in areas where information is still scarce (e.g. the long-term use of cannabis or synthetic drugs). The need for regular consultation of civil society in the formulation of EU drugs policy was highlighted. The Commission also recommended extending the EU strategy from five to eight years, covering the implementation of two consecutive EU action plans over the period, to allow full implementation and fine-tuning of initiatives to match the strategy objectives.

A number of evaluation exercises conducted at national level during this reporting period are worthy of comment. Of particular interest are evaluations carried out by countries that adopted a more ‘structured’ approach to their national drug strategy, the elements of which can be summarised as the formal documenting of objectives, defining and quantifying targets, identifying the authority responsible for implementation and specifying the date for the achievement of objectives. This approach makes it easier for countries to report on the tasks that have been accomplished and to identify problematic issues, therefore enabling action to be taken where needed.

Examples of such an approach can be found in the strategies of the Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal, where evaluation of the national drugs strategies revealed, or has the potential to reveal, actions that have been achieved and unaccomplished tasks that still have to be acted on. An example of how a structured approach can help an evaluation of progress made can be found in the 2004 evaluation of the Portuguese national drug strategy. External evaluators concluded that progress had been made in achieving some of the 30 main objectives of the Portuguese action plan, with eight objectives fully achieved and 10 partially achieved; however, a lack of information meant that other objectives were difficult to evaluate, and five objectives were judged not to have been achieved. In Germany, a steering committee (National Council for Drug Addiction) has been established to guide the 2003 action plan towards implementation and monitor the outcome.

The adoption of a national drug strategy, or the evaluation of the success of a previous one, has resulted in an increase in the drug-related budget in some countries. For example, in Greece there has been a steady increase in expenditure on healthcare-related services; in Hungary funds have been mobilised to fund the as yet unimplemented elements of the strategy; and in Luxembourg the drugs-related budget of the Ministry of Health increased from about €1 million in 1999 to almost €6 million in 2004. However, in all Member States, public expenditure on the drugs issue represents only a small part of total public expenditure (between 0.1 % and 0.3 %). This may partly explain the observation that, across the EU, there is no direct link between economic growth and associated changes in general budget and changes in the level of public expenditure on the drugs issue.

In several EU countries, spending on supply reduction continued to account for the bulk of public expenditure (an estimated 68–75 % of the total drug-related expenditure) (6). However, in a few countries, including Malta and Luxembourg, spending on demand reduction was apparently higher than expenditure on supply reduction (demand reduction expenditure accounting for 66 % and 59 % of total drugs expenditure respectively). However, it is not clear whether the reported differences in budgetary allocations represent a fundamental difference in policy priorities or reflect a bias in data collection.

The lack of availability of information on direct public expenditure on the drugs issue continues to be a problem. However, there are signs that, alongside growing academic interest in this area (7), there is growing political commitment to the identification and description of drug-related public expenditure so that national expenditure on drugs can be included as a key element in cost–benefit evaluations. Together with the Reitox network and the European Commission, the EMCDDA is now developing methodology that will allow consistent and credible estimates of drug-related public expenditure within the EU, as requested by the EU action plan of 2005.

This first evaluation process at national and European level represents a valuable feedback mechanism, informing decision-makers of the extent to which their decisions have been implemented, and at what cost, and enabling them to increase efforts in those areas where problems have been recorded or assessment has produced unfavourable findings. Although clear evidence of the impact of national drugs strategies on the overall drug phenomenon is not yet available (EMCDDA, 2004a), the approach of ‘counting the score’ is a positive sign and, hopefully, will trigger a general trend in Europe towards the detailed assessment of each national drug strategy.

(3) COM (2004) 707 final.

(4) European Council (16–17 December 2004) – Conclusions.

(5) Among which is the EMCDDA–Europol Statistical Snapshot (1999–2004).

(6) See the selected issue ‘Public expenditure in the area of drug-demand reduction’ in the EMCDDA annual report 2003.

(7) In Belgium, Spain, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom – for detailed references, see the EMCDDA website.