Reduction in drug-related deaths

Response policies

The 2000–04 EU policy target of a substantial reduction in drug-related deaths found a considerable level of acceptance among Member States. Eight of the EU-15 Member States (Germany, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, Finland and the United Kingdom) plus four new EU countries (Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland) have included a reduction in drug-related deaths into their national strategy documents (160). The fact that several new Member States still lack reliable information on the number of drug-related deaths is, however, an important obstacle to the establishment of an adequate response policy.

The new EU drugs strategy (2005–12) places a high priority on improving access to a range of services that can reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with drug dependence, and the number of drug-related deaths has been chosen as one of the main indicators of progress towards this aim in the first four-year action plan (2005–08) (161).


A major intervention in terms of its impact on drug-related deaths is adequate provision of treatment, especially substitution treatment (WHO, 1998; ACMD, 2000; Brugal et al., 2005). During the 1980s, and to an even greater extent in the 1990s, substitution treatment underwent a rapid expansion in Europe, especially in EU Member States with a high prevalence of heroin injecting. Currently, more than half a million heroin users in the EU – which is between one quarter and half of the estimated target group of heroin users – are enrolled in substitution treatment programmes.

In countries where more than half the problem drug-using population is in substitution treatment, reductions in the levels of drug injecting and related risk behaviours are likely, with a consequent reduction in overdose deaths.

In 2003, the European Council recommended to EU Member States a number of measures to reduce the number of drug-related deaths (162). Besides the provision of treatment for drug addiction, these include the improvement of education and the dissemination of information on overdose risk and management among drug users and their peers and families; and proactive strategies to reach those who are out of contact with services through outreach work and easily accessible, attractive drugs services. The level of implementation of the recommendation and the effects thereof are under close assessment by the Commission with a report expected in 2006.

The demographic profile of overdose victims shows that untreated older heroin users are at the greatest risk of dying from a drug overdose. A specific measure that is effective in reaching this priority group is the establishment of supervised drug consumption facilities (163). Such services currently operate in 15 German and 15 Dutch cities as well as in Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao (Spain) and Oslo (Norway).

(160) See the overview table: Strategies and selected measures to reduce drug-related deaths.

(161) See the EU Drug strategy 2005–2012.


(163European report on drug consumption rooms.