EMCDDA publishes its first European guide on responding to drug problems


A new European guide has been published by the EU Drugs Agency (EMCDDA), which includes the agency’s first overview of actions and interventions currently available to address the consequences of illicit drug use.

Drawing on insights from 30 countries, Health and social responses to drug problems: a European guide is designed to benefit those approaching drug problems from a public health planning perspective as well as frontline workers and practitioners.

The new guide provides practical guidance on how responses in the drugs field can be better conceived, targeted and delivered.

Pressing issues such as how to respond to the problems of older heroin users, how to tackle deaths from highly potent fentanils, and how to prevent harms from drug and alcohol use in festivals and clubs, are all explored within the paper.

The guide views health and social responses to drug problems from the three perspectives of responding to:

  • problems associated with different types of drug and patterns of use;
  • the needs of different groups (e.g. women, young people, migrants, ageing drug users); and
  • in different settings (e.g. prisons, nightlife, festivals, schools, workplace, local communities).

Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA’s Director, said: “This innovative new guide surveys some of the main public health challenges in the drugs field today and provides a map with which to navigate the various stages of designing, targeting and implementing effective responses.

“To remain relevant, those involved in responding to drug problems must be prepared to adapt, innovate and develop new partnerships. This practical guide equips them with the tools to respond to the drug problems of today, but also to prepare for those of tomorrow.”

Designed as an initial reference point, the publication includes summaries and user-friendly signposting to highlight key information, best practice examples and implications for policy and practice. It also acts as a gateway to a wide range of online resources, providing links to evidence and tools.

Other useful resources that have been published by the EMCDDA today include ‘background papers’ that provide the background information that informed and contributed to the creation of the European guide.

Scottish Drugs Forum and Greater Glasgow and Clyde Alcohol and Drug Services have contributed to the European guide by authoring a background paper on older people with drug problems.

Older people with drug problems (OPDP) are considered by the EMCDDA to be those aged 40 or over, whose recurrent drug use is causing them harm or is placing them at a high risk of harm. This group are likely to encounter negative life outcomes due to their drug use and they have characteristics and trajectories distinct from those of their younger counterparts.

The paper, ‘Responding to the Needs of Ageing Drug Users’, outlines the main health and social issues for older people with a drug problem and also outlines the interventions and initiatives currently being delivered in Europe to address these issues.

The paper concludes by exploring areas for future development, and the opportunities and challenges in this area, outlining the key implications for those engaged in planning or delivering health and social care responses to illicit drug use, specifically in relation to ageing drug users.

David Liddell, Scottish Drugs Forum’s CEO and one of the authors of the background report, said: “Across Europe, there is a growing number of older drug users, who, through years of continued drug use, experience multiple physical and mental health and social problems.  This is particularly the case for Western European countries, including Scotland, who were the first to witness heroin epidemics in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We have seen a large increase in overdose deaths in this population over recent years (deaths have doubled in Scotland over the last ten years). In terms of protecting people from overdose deaths, retaining people in treatment is key. To achieve this and to address wider health and other issues, there is an increasing need to develop effective responses, policies, treatments and services to support this vulnerable group.

“Recommendations for policy makers and services include modifying existing service provision and the development of innovative, specialised services. Of course, this will inevitably have financial implications, and therefore appropriate and flexible funding as well as innovative use of resources is pivotal to ensure an adequate response.”

Click here to view ‘Health and Social Responses to Drug Problems: A European Guide’

Click here to view ‘Responding to the Needs of Ageing Drug Users’