Europe Now Facing Similar Drug Trends and Harm as United States. Addiction Treatment is Needed to Solve the Problem

According to experts, the scope of drug abuse, addiction, and trafficking in Europe closely parallels the scope of such issues in the United States, with recent years breaking records for drug seizures, new drug strains, drug-related deaths, and numbers of people in Europe affected by the crisis.

Addict in europe

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) just released its annual report on the scope of drug use, addiction, crime, and trafficking in Europe, and the results are more than concerning.

“Everywhere, Everything, Everyone”

“Everywhere, Everything, Everyone” is the headline of the EMCDDA’s 2023 annual report on the scope of drug abuse, addiction, trafficking, and overall drug-related crime in Europe. The headline does not mince words on the critical issues facing Europe concerning drug-related health crises and crime trends.1

In the opening paragraphs of the report, the EMCDDA expanded on what it meant by the dramatic headline:

Everywhere. According to EMCDDA researchers, today’s drug issues in Europe are on display everywhere. In every nation within the European Union, drug addiction and drug experimentation problems are increasingly connected to other social ails like homelessness, mental health issues, criminality, and youth problems. The report also highlighted how there is a direct connection between drugs and increased violent crime on the streets, corruption in law enforcement, and corruption in government offices.

Everything. The EMCDDA research for 2023 also found that just about every mind-altering substance imaginable or known has been spotted, seized, and reported in Europe. “Almost everything with psychoactive properties can appear on the drug market, often mislabelled or in mixtures, leaving consumers potentially unaware of what they are using,” writes the report’s authors.

Everyone. Perhaps most concerning, the EMCDDA predicts that if current drug trends in Europe continue, everyone in Europe will be impacted by the problem. Directly, millions will be impacted by their addictions to mind-altering substances. Indirectly, millions more will be affected by youth being recruited into criminality, by health budgets and social services being strained to the breaking point, and by communities feeling unsafe due to drug crime and trafficking.

Highlights of the Alarming Report

Teenagers do drugs

While the full report is worth reading, its critical points can be summarized. To start, a broader range of available drugs across Europe means users will be exposed to more substances with unknown chemicals. The report also shows the rate of drug use in Europe has rebounded, well above pre-pandemic levels, with 2023 en route to reflect the highest rate of drug use on the European continent since recording began.

As for what is being used, cannabis remains the most-used substance in Europe, with some 22.6 million Europeans over the age of 15 having used the drug in the past year.

But cannabis is just the beginning. The EMCDDA report also highlights cocaine as being a serious drug of concern. Its prevalence is second only to cannabis, and cocaine seizures by law enforcement departments reached a new historical high. Finally, the report also emphasized the presence of new synthetic drugs circulating through the black market, making it extremely difficult to test for, locate, and respond to drug use, from law enforcement and from public health perspectives. For example, the EMCDDA reported 41 new drug types seized in Europe that had never been reported in the region before.

EMCDDA officials and their experts and staff are responding with alarm, urging countries, law enforcement departments, public health institutions, and policymakers to work together to combat the growing problem. “Established illicit drugs are now widely accessible and potent new substances continue to emerge,” said European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction Director Alexis Goosdeel. “Almost everything with psychoactive properties can appear on the drug market. I summarize this with the phrase: ‘everywhere, everything, everyone.’”2

What New Drugs Are Being Seized?

Arrest drug dealer.

According to the report, some new substances seized in Europe include ketamine and nitrous oxide. While these drugs are popular in other countries, they were not noticeably present in Europe until recently. These drugs have led to bladder problems, nerve damage, and lung injuries.

While heroin has been present in Europe for decades, the opioid problem in the region has recently worsened with the introduction of synthetic opioids. Synthetic opioids (manufactured drugs similar to heroin) can often be much more potent than heroin (like fentanyl and its analogs). EMCDDA researchers identified synthetic opioids as a primary driver of overdose deaths in many Baltic countries. According to the report, 74 new synthetic opioids have been identified as drugs of concern since 2009.

Cannabis is still the most-used mind-altering substance in Europe, but now the EMCDDA reports new cannabis products are becoming popular across the continent. For example, cannabinoid HHC (a type of cannabis that produces strong psychoactive effects) is growing in popularity, aided by the fact that it is legal in many European Union countries.

As mentioned earlier, cocaine addiction and trafficking are of particular concern in Europe, with a record-breaking 303 tons of the drug being seized by EU member countries in 2021. According to the data, 75% of the seized cocaine was found in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain. EMCDDA officials say the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam are now the main gateways for cocaine cartels to bring cocaine into the continent. In Antwerp, 110 tons of cocaine were seized in 2022, compared to 91 tons in 2021.

The EMCDDA also reports domestic production of cocaine reaching all-time highs on the European continent, a relatively new problem. In 2022, law enforcement officials destroyed 34 cocaine labs across the European Union. The officials also reported several seizures of the precursor chemicals necessary to produce cocaine, confirming that “large-scale cocaine production steps take place in the European Union.”

Crime, Corruption, and Violence Also on the Rise

The EMCDDA report highlighted the social costs of increased drug abuse and trafficking. For example, the report showed how violent crimes and corruption scandals are all on the rise across the continent due to drug trafficking.

“Criminals use the profits from drug trafficking to buy people, buy police officers, and to buy murder…”

European street in twillights.

In several countries with major ports of entry, drug cartels have become embedded in law enforcement departments and political offices. “Criminals use the profits from drug trafficking to buy people, buy police officers, and to buy murder,” said Ylva Johansson, the European Commissioner for Home Affairs. “Violence is growing in scale and brutality. In the past, criminals shot people in the leg as a warning, now they shoot them in the head. It’s time to realize organized crime is as big a threat towards our society as terrorism.” The report cited Belgium and the Netherlands as being particularly concerning hotspots for increased drug-related crime.

The Need for Addiction Treatment

As many of Europe’s drug-related problems now begin to mirror those occurring in the United States, it’s crucial to reinforce the fact that the only way to reduce a region’s drug problem effectively is by reducing demand for drugs, i.e., by treating those who are addicted and helping them get off of drugs for good. Europe’s escalating drug problem is a grim reminder that drug addiction can affect anyone, regardless of country of origin, language, ethnicity, income level, or geographic location. If you know someone struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, please help them seek treatment at a qualified drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center as soon as possible.


  1. EMCDDA. “The drug situation in Europe up to 2023 – an overview and assessment of emerging threats and new developments (European Drug Report 2023).” The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 2023. ↩︎

  2. AP News. “Powerful illegal drugs are inundating Europe and sending corruption and violence soaring, EU says.” AP News, 2023. ↩︎

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The editorial staff at Narconon International is driven by the mission of providing timely and accurate information about the organization’s services, programs, and initiatives. The team consists of experienced addiction specialists, writers, and …
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