EU Drugs Report 2021: trends and developments

IK – 06/2021

The coronavirus pandemic has had a manifold effect on almost every aspect of life. This also applies to the drug situation in Europe. Whereas the use of illicit drugs decreased during the first lockdown phase, it subsequently increased again up to the previous level. However, the data also indicates that occasional users reduced or stopped using during the pandemic, whilst regular users increased their consumption. These are two of the key findings of the 2021 Drug Report, published by the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction). The drugs report is based on the latest data on the situation of illicit drugs from the EU member states, Norway and Turkey. It provides an overview of drug use, trends, supply and markets, as well as data on prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

More drugs used at home

The pandemic is having a perceptible impact on drug choices. There was an increase in the use of drugs taken in home use, especially in lockdown periods. According to the survey, cannabis was by far the most commonly used substance in 2020. 22.2 million (7%) of Europeans aged 15 - 64 have used cannabis. The study found that the trend towards home cannabis cultivation, no doubt due in part to output restrictions, continued last year.  Cocaine use took second place in 2020: an estimated 3.5 million (1.2%) Europeans used this drug last year. The report assessed the situation with regard to the abuse of benzodiazepines, certain sleeping pills and tranquillisers as being a matter of concern. The EMCDDA cites the high availability and low cost of these substances, as well as pandemic-related mental health problems among users, as possible reasons.

Less party drugs in the lockdown

In contrast, the use of ecstasy, amphetamine, LSD or ketamine, drugs that can be attributed to partying and night-life, decreased during the lockdown period. However, available data suggest that the more the lockdown measures are relaxed, the greater the role of these drugs will be once again. For example, data show that the easing of movement and travel restrictions in the summer of 2020 has already led to an increase in the consumption of these substances.

Care for drug addicts in the coronavirus crisis

During the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, care for addicts was severely limited in many EU countries.  However, the Drug Report 2021 stated that in most member states, including Germany, care services could be stabilised comparatively quickly.

Impact of the pandemic on drug supply

The drug market has adapted quite quickly to the coronavirus crisis: Drugs have since been sold less on the street and more via encrypted messaging services, social media apps, online sources, and mail and delivery services.  At the wholesale level, this is reflected in changes in smuggling routes from land to sea, according to the report.

EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan

The EMCDDA drugs report provides key messages and trends on the implementation of the EU Drugs Strategy and the EU Drug Action Plan 2021-25. The new EU Drugs Strategy, published in December 2020, provided the overarching policy framework for the EU’s drugs policy over the next five years. The EU's priorities lie mainly in three areas: reducing drug supplies - improving safety, reducing drug demand - prevention, treatment and care services as well as addressing drug-related harm.