Heroin and injecting drug use

Problem drug use is defined as ‘injecting drug use or long duration/regular use of opiates, cocaine and/or amphetamines’. Although small in terms of overall numbers, problem drug users are responsible for a disproportionate share of the health and social problems resulting from drug consumption. In most countries in the EU, with the exception of Sweden and Finland, where amphetamine use is more prevalent, problem drug use remains characterised by the use of heroin, often in combination with other drugs. As estimation in this area is difficult, and the precision and reliability of estimates vary considerably, caution is required both in interpreting trends and in making comparisons between countries.

National estimates of problem drug use vary between 2 and 10 cases per 1 000 of the adult population (that is between 0.2 % and 1 %). No common trend in the number of problematic drug users in the EU can be observed, although studies suggest that in at least half of EU countries some increase has occurred since the mid-1990s.

Probably around half of ‘problem drug users’ in the EU are drug injectors, i.e. around 600 000–900 000 of the EU’s estimated 1–1.5 million problem drug users. The proportion of injectors varies considerably between countries and has changed over time, with levels of injection falling in almost all countries during the 1990s, although there is some evidence of more recent increases. National estimates of injecting drug use vary between two and five cases per 1 000 of the adult population (or 0.2–0.5 %).

Despite a dramatic decrease in opium production in Afghanistan in 2001, there does not seem to be any evidence that this had a direct impact on the availability of heroin on the European illicit market. This can probably be explained by the existence of stocks of the drug.