Drug Abuse in the Global Village

Drug Abuse in Western Europe

                                                   EXTENT OF DRUG ABUSE

A national survey conducted in 1984 among 15 to 40 year olds indicates that 20 to 25 per cent of the respondents "occasionally" abuse cannabis and 7 per cent abuse it "often"; 0.7 per cent abuse opiates and/or cocaine "frequently" and 2 per cent abuse LSD/other non specified drugs "frequently". About 6 per cent of the general population misuse tranquilizers. No significant solvent abuse is reported (WHO 1992).


A national survey on consumption of tobacco, alcohol, medical preparations and illicit drugs was conducted among youth aged 15 to 18 years in 1990 (sample size 1,699). Findings indicate that about 16 per cent of the respondents consumed medical preparations at the time of the survey. Ten per cent of those consuming medical preparations reported abusing stimulants and tranquilizers during exam time. Stimulants were obtained through friends but most other medical preparations were prescribed by doctors (U.N. 1991).

            The survey also showed that the prevalence of current illicit drug abuse ranged from 5 to 6 per cent while "ever" abuse ranged from 12 to 16 per cent. The prevalence of "ever" abuse of cannabis is 10 per cent followed by 3 per cent hallucinogens, 2.7 per cent stimulants, 1.5 per cent cocaine and 0.4 per cent opiates. Table 1 summarizes the findings of the survey.

Table 1. Use of licit and illicit drugs among the 15 to 18 year old age range in 1990.
Never   Previous           Current             Ever
Tobacco           56.5 -   12 -                  25.3 -              -
                        61.2     15.4                 29.6

Alcohol            32.2 -   2.3 -                 60 -                 -
                        36.8     4                      64.7
 ations              73 -      8.9 -                 12.7 -              -
                        77.2     12                    16.2
 Drugs              84.5 -   6.7 -                 4.6 -                 12.1 -
                        87.9     9.4                   6.9                   15.5
Sample size 1,699
Source: Reply to the UNDCP Annual Reports Questionnaire for the year 1991.


It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 drug abusers in France (U.N. 1990).

            Cannabis is the most abused drug (69 per cent of all people charged for abuse and/or for dealing) (see table 1). About ten per cent of those undergoing treatment in November 1989 were cannabis abusers (U.N. 1990).

            Fifty three per cent of those undergoing treatment were heroin addicts according to a monthly survey. Further, 27 per cent of those charged in 1990 were arrested for use of heroin (U.N. 1990; Statistiques 1990).

            Cocaine abuse is prevalent among 17.7 per cent of all charges for use of illicit drugs in 1990 and 2.1 per cent of those undergoing treatment.

            Psychotropic substances abuse is prevalent among 0.73 per cent of those charged for use of illicit drugs in 1990 and 9.8 per cent of those undergoing treatment. Cannabis and volatile solvents abuse is more pronounced among youth under 20 years of age, whereas, heroin abuse is more prevalent among the 20 to 30 years age group. Psychotropic substances abuse is more prevalent among abusers 30 years of age or older; with a high proportion of women (France 1991).


It is estimated that there are between 100,000 and 120,000 opiate abusers and approximately 1 million cannabis abusers based on police data, household surveys, follow ups, treatment centres and expert estimates. No clear estimation for cocaine is possible due to the high frequency of multiple drug abuse (U.N. 1991).

            The most recent survey on consumption and abuse of illicit drugs, alcohol, medical preparations and tobacco in Germany was concluded in 1991. The age range of the subjects was 12 to 39 and the sample size approximately 20,000 people in both the old Lהnder (former FRG) and the new Lהnder (former GDR) (National Programme on Drug Abuse Control 1990).

            The lifetime prevalence of drug abuse in the former GDR was reported to be 1.5 per cent with the most abused drug being cannabis. Synthetic drug abuse and in particular pethidine have also been reported; 50 per cent of the abusers are women with a high concentration in the 40 and over age group (National Programme on Drug Abuse Control 1990).

            The lifetime prevalence of drug abuse in the former FRG was found to be 16.3 per cent according to the same survey; 10.5 per cent abused cannabis, 1.8 per cent stimulants or hallucinogens, 0.8 per cent cocaine and 0.9 per cent opiates. The prevalence of drug abuse for 1990 is 4.8 per cent for the 12 to 39 years old age group; 3.9 per cent abused cannabis, 0.3 per cent cocaine, and 0.2 per cent opiates (National Programme on Drug Abuse Control 1990).


Estimates of the extent of drug abuse in Luxembourg are based on police convictions and treatment data. Cannabis, heroin and benzodiazepines were reported as important drugs of abuse in 1989 (U.N. 1989). Cocaine abuse is reported secondary to heroin abuse. Abuse of amphetamines is reported insignificant. The prevalence of multiple drug abuse is on the increase. Among the 668 drug abusers registered with the police, 191 were multiple drug addicts (Luxembourg 1991).


A national survey conducted in 1987 (NSS Market Research) on drug abuse in the population aged 15 and older found that lifetime prevalence was 6 per cent for cannabis abuse, 2 per cent for stimulants and 1 per cent for "hard drugs" (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

Table 1. Prevalence of drug abuse by type in 1987 and 1990 in Amsterdam, 12 years and over
1987                1990

 Sample size                             4,376               4,444
 Ever used                                71.6                 67.4
 Used past year                        49.6                 46.2
 Used past month                      45.9                 42.4
 Sample size                             4,370               4,444
 Ever used                                87.6                 85.8
 Used past year                        78.8                 77.7
 Used past month                      71.1                 68.8
 Sample size                             4,372               4,442
 Ever used                                20.0                 18.7
 Used past year                        11.2                 9.4
 Used past month                      8.2                   6.4
 Sample size                             4,374               4,439
 Ever used                                22.2                 20.3
 Used past year                        10.7                 9.3
 Used past month                      7.3                   6.0
 Sample size                             4,370               4,442
 Ever used                                22.8                 24.1
 Used past year                        9.3                   9.8
 Used past month                      5.5                   6.0
 Sample size                             4,371               4,440
 Ever used                                5.6                   5.3
 Used past year                        1.6                   1.3
 Used past month                      0.6                   0.4
 Sample size                             4,366               4,440
 Ever used                                4.4                   4.0
 Used past year                        0.6                   0.5
 Used past month                      0.3                   0.2
 Sample size                             -                       4,442
 Ever used                                -                       1.0
 Used past year                        -                       0.7
 Used past month                      -                       0.1
 Sample size                             4,370               4,430
 Ever used                                3.8                   3.9
 Used past year                        0.4                   0.3
 Used past month                      0.1                   0.1
 Sample size                             4,366               4,430
 Ever used                                1.1                   0.9
 Used past year                        0.3                   0.1
 Used past month                      0.2                   0.0
 Sample size                             4,360               4,425
 Ever used                                9.2                   7.2
 Used past year                        2.4                   1.9
 Used past month                      1.1                   0.6
Pharm. opiates
 Sample size                             4,360               4,425
 Ever used                                -                       6.6
 Used past year                        2.0                   1.9
 Used past month                      0.9                   0.6
 Sample size                             4,360               4,425
 Ever used                                -                       1.1
 Used past year                        0.3                   0.1
 Used past month                      0.2                   0.0

            The estimated total number of drug addicts in the Netherlands is 21,000 (Bureau Driessen, 1991). Amsterdam estimates between 5,000 and 7,000 addicts (Municipal Services 1990).

            A survey conducted in 1990 among a population aged 12 years old and over in Amsterdam indicates that even though Amsterdam is an urban area where drug abuse is expected to be high, cocaine abuse is very low and stable. Further, current use of hypnotics (11.2 per cent) and sedatives (10.7 per cent) surpass that of cannabis (9.3 per cent) (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

            Another national survey conducted in 1988/1989, among students 10 to 18 years of age, found that lifetime prevalence of drug abuse is (9.6 per cent). Tranquilizers or sedatives lifetime prevalence is the highest (13 per cent), followed by cannabis (7.7 per cent), cocaine (0.7 per cent), heroin (0.5 per cent) and inhalants (3 per cent). Apart from tranquilizers and sedatives, survey findings indicate that abuse of illicit drugs such as cannabis and inhalants is generally irregular and experimental as is the case for cocaine, which is also abused for recreational purposes (Plomp, H.N. et al. 1991).

            Heroin abuse is common among drug addicts, who also tend to be multiple drug abusers. Crack and LSD abuse is negligible in the Netherlands (Ministry of Welfare et al. 1991).

Registers of drug abusers are kept by the "Service pour la Toxicomanie" and by law authorities following testing for drug abuse. In 1992, a total of 28 persons were registered drug addicts, 23 to heroin, 1 to cocaine and 4 to cannabis. Of the total 5 were registered for the first time in 1992 (U.N. 1992).


The estimated number of persons abusing illicit drugs on a daily basis is the highest for cannabis (150,000 in 1989), followed by benzodiazepines and minor tranquilizers (100,000 in 1986), heroin (18,000 in 1989), cocaine (16,000 in 1989), amphetamine type stimulants (1,200 in 1989) and hallucinogens (450 in 1989) (U.N. 1990).

            Two studies carried out in 1981 and 1990 concluded that 10 per cent of the 15 to 16 year olds and a quarter of the 15 to 24 years old have used cannabis at least once prior to being surveyed. Three per cent of those aged 15 to 24 years abused heroin and cocaine at least once prior to being surveyed (Sieber,Angst and Binder, 1981 and IUMSP/IPSO, 1990).