Each year, 7 000–9 000 acute drug-related deaths are reported in the EU. The overall EU trend has continued to increase in recent years, although less dramatically than was the case in the 1980s and early 1990s, and with a more complex and divergent picture appearing at the national level. Most of the victims are young people in their 20s or 30s, representing a considerable cost to society and loss of life.

In most cases (typically over 80%) opioids are present in the toxicological analyses, often in combination with other substances (such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or cocaine). Cocaine or ecstasy alone is found in a smaller number of cases. Some of the factors that appear to be associated with increased risk of opioid-related deaths are drug injecting, polydrug use and, in particular, the concurrent use of alcohol or depressants, loss of tolerance and not being in contact with treatment services. It is known that proper and timely interventions can help to prevent many fatal overdoses, supporting the need for interventions in this area that encourage those witnessing a drug-related overdose to take appropriate action.