Drug-Induced Deaths Rise in Europe: Key Data and Trends Revealed in the Latest Report

Lisbon, Portugal – Estimating the impact of drug use on mortality is crucial for understanding public health consequences and how they may evolve over time. The latest analysis of drug-induced deaths in Europe provides key data on overdose deaths and substances involved. This information is part of the European Drug Report 2024, an annual overview of the drug situation in Europe released by the EMCDDA.

Improving our comprehension of drug-related mortality is essential for developing effective responses. Despite progress made in the past decade, there are still limitations in the available data that hinder policy development and responses. The term “drug-induced deaths” refers to deaths directly caused by drug consumption, specifically drug overdose deaths. However, this measure does not encompass all mortality associated with drug use, such as deaths from accidents, violence, or chronic diseases where drugs may have played a role.

Assessing drug-induced deaths is challenging due to methodological and data quality issues, especially when analyzing recent trends. Data for the most recent reporting year (2022) is available for only 21 of the 29 countries covered by the indicator, requiring estimated values for an overall EU estimate. The emergence of new drug threats underscores the importance of timely and comprehensive data in this area for future priorities.

Concerns are growing over deaths linked to potent synthetic opioids like carfentanil and nitazene opioids, which have been associated with fatal and non-fatal poisonings. While these substances are not prominent in routine data at the EU level, their potential negative impact on public health in Europe is alarming. The appearance of nitazene opioids in poisoning outbreaks in Ireland and France in 2023 raises concerns due to their high potency and the challenges in routine detection.

Responding to intentional drug poisonings is complex, as determining the intent of overdose deaths can be challenging. Deaths reported as accidental or with undetermined intent pose difficulties in responding effectively. Interventions targeting deliberate self-harm and suicidal intent among drug users are crucial, especially considering the disproportionate risk females may face in this context.

Preventing opioid-related overdoses and deaths remains challenging, necessitating interventions to prevent overdoses and reduce vulnerability. The increasing availability of opioid antagonists and tailored programmes for different age cohorts are crucial strategies to reduce fatalities. Ensuring access to opioid agonist treatment and implementing naloxone programmes are key protective measures against opioid overdose deaths.

Mortality rates due to overdoses in the European Union highlight disparities between males and females, with men aged 25 to 39 being the most affected group. Opioids, particularly heroin and its derivatives, are commonly found in fatal overdoses, emphasizing the importance of addressing multiple substance use in toxicology reports. An estimated 6,392 drug-induced deaths occurred in the EU in 2022, with opioids implicated in three-quarters of these cases.

Overall, the intricacies of drug-induced deaths underscore the need for comprehensive data, timely responses, and targeted interventions to prevent fatalities associated with drug use. The evolving landscape of drug consumption and the emergence of potent synthetic opioids pose significant challenges for public health in Europe.