Is Europe facing an opioid epidemic: what does European Monitoring Data tell us?
This paper addresses the question of whether Europe is facing an opioid epidemic and utilises data from the European monitoring system on opioid use, harms and availability, to help assess the situation. Data sources covering the last decade on overdose deaths, drug treatment entrants and drug-related emergencies suggest that the health burden associated with opioid use is mostly related to the consumption of heroin – and to a lesser extent diverted opioid substitution treatment medications – and that it is primarily affecting an ageing cohort of vulnerable users, with little evidence of an increase in initiation. While opioid-related deaths are currently at much lower levels than in the US, they still represent a large preventable health burden with differences across EU countries. There is also increasing concern related to the high availability of heroin, illicitly produced synthetic opioids and diverted opioid pain medications on the European drugs market. Trends in the latter categories are poorly monitored and we may miss signs of emerging problems. Moreover, the economic recession following the COVID-19 pandemic has a potential to lead to resurgence in opioid use and harms.