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Problem drug use

Project manager: Danica Klempová

NEW!!Guidelines for Estimating the Incidence of Problem Drug Use

Prevalence estimation

The aim of this project area is to provide more comparable, scientifically based estimates of the prevalence of more severe patterns of drug use that cannot be reliably measured by surveys. This information is useful for assessing treatment needs, and offers a realistic basis for estimating the social costs of drug problems, for example drug-related crime.

By 2005, all countries were able to produce national prevalence estimates of problem drug use (PDU) using the agreed PDU definition (‘injecting drug use or long duration/regular use of opioids, cocaine and/or amphetamines’). Many of these estimates were based on results from more than one estimation method, thereby adding to their comparability and reliability. Apart from estimates of overall PDU, separate estimates are also being collected on problem opioid use, problem stimulant use and injecting drug use. The most recent data are available in the Annual report 2007: the state of the drugs problem in Europe, and the Statistical bulletin 2007.

In order to facilitate the use of the methodology in the EU, national level guidelines (255KB) have been produced which will be further updated on the basis of the experiences from national experts.

In addition the EMCDDA has developed guidelines for local level prevalence estimation using capture-recapture methodology (221KB).

The data are being collected annually through the national focal points using an electronic standard data reporting system Fonte (former ‘standard tables’ 7 and 8). If you are interested in providing data please contact your national focal point.

An annual expert meeting is held with representatives from all Member States. In recent years this meeting has been held back-to-back with the meeting on drug-related infectious diseases (DRID). For the combined 2006 meeting report on PDU and DRID, see here.

At both national and local level, the methods are not costly and can be implemented on a routine basis, although some modification of data systems, for example by adding one or two key items, may be necessary. The quality of a prevalence estimate is only as good as the data on which it is based, and continuing efforts are necessary to improve the quality of data in other indicators, such as treatment demand, which are used as a basis for prevalence estimates.

Incidence estimation

Monitoring the incidence of problem drug use — the rate at which people who will become problem users start using or injecting drugs for the first time — plays an important part in tracing new trends in Europe’s drug situation and in helping to shape interventions.

The EMCDDA has recently published guidelines for estimating the incidence of problem drug use. The new guidelines use advanced statistical techniques to estimate the numbers of new cases of (future) problem drug use occurring over time, based on available data such as numbers of new drug treatment entries.

While these techniques have been around since the 1970s, they have thus far rarely been applied in Europe. Most EU Member States, to date, have estimated only the prevalence of problem drug use —the total number of problem drug users in a given year — and, as a result, have little information on trends over time in first-time use.

These guidelines were conceived to address this information gap and form part of the toolset developed under the EMCDDA’s key indicator 'Problem drug use'. The new incidence guidelines were developed by a working group of experts from several Member States and have already resulted in new estimates of incidence.

Related documents
EU expert meetings (9—12 October 2007) on key indicators

‘Drug-related infectious diseases’ and ‘Problem drug use’ — meeting report.

Meeting report
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Methodological guidelines on national level
EMCDDA, 2004
Revised Guidelines
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Guidelines for local level prevalence estimates
Methodological guidelines, EMCDDA 1999
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Updated Incidence estimation guidelines

NEW! Guidelines for Estimating the Incidence of Problem Drug Use (2008 updated version)

Incidence guidelines
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Page last updated: Tuesday, 01 October 2019