Drug overdose deaths in Europe have risen for the fifth consecutive year, with a record 9 461 lives lost in 2017 (EU 28, Turkey and Norway). Reducing drug-related deaths is therefore a major public health challenge. Fighting this problem, the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) launches today three new resources looking at drug overdoses in Europe and the interventions in place to prevent them.
Most overdose deaths in Europe are linked to the use of opioids (heroin or synthetic opioids), although cocaine, other stimulant drugs and medicines also play a role. In a new online resource, Prevention of drug-related deaths in Europe, the agency provides an overview on the issue and the risk factors involved.
The EMCDDA illustrates how overdose prevention can be addressed on three levels: reducing vulnerability to overdose (e.g. accessible treatment and services); reducing the risk of overdose (e.g. retention in opioid substitution treatment, prison aftercare and overdose risk assessments); and reducing the likelihood of fatal outcomes (e.g. take-home naloxone policies and supervision of drug consumption). Currently, 87 supervised drug consumption facilities exist in 8 EU Member States, Norway and Switzerland providing a safer drug-using environment.
While naloxone – a medicine used to reverse opioid toxicity – has been used in hospitals for over 40 years, it is also now available in the community in many countries. The EMCDDA launched its first overview of Take-home naloxone (THN) programmes in Europe.
Practical solutions have been found to allow non-medical personnel to receive and administer injectable naloxone and enable the distribution of the medication to the homes of potential bystanders. Some countries now make the emergency medication available without a prescription to, or have lifted prescription regulations for, specific establishments or those registered as formally trained. The resource summarises the different products used in THN programmes, including naloxone nasal spray, authorised in 2017 by the European Commission for marketing in all EU countries.
Where have drug-related deaths increased most over the last 10 years? Are women and men affected equally? What are the current concerns in Europe? These are some of the questions answered in new Frequently asked questions (FAQs): drug overdose deaths in Europe published on the EMCDDA website. These present the overdose situation and trends as well as a range of maps and graphics. The EMCDDA monitors closely alerts on harms related to fentanyl and its derivatives due to the very high toxicity of these substances and their potential to result in large clusters of incidents and deaths.
Through its Strategy 2025, the EMCDDA is committed to contributing to a healthier Europe. While opioids are involved in the vast majority of overdose fatalities, other substances (e.g. cocaine, benzodiazepines, synthetic cannabinoids) also contribute to the overdose burden and should not be neglected. The resources contribute to a better understanding of drug overdoses and responses to them in Europe to support sound policymaking in this area.