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In looking forward to the next EU drug strategy

Discussions on overall implications of Snapshot data for EU Action Plan targets

The Snapshot data in context

The snapshot provides an observational window on the overall European situation in the 15 countries covered by the evaluation exercise. As noted in the introduction of this report, for a number of practical and methodological reasons the overall analysis of changes over time is complicated. One issue of importance is that the observational window available is quite small and occurs over a time when Member States have been investing in improving their capacity to gather information.  This means that observed changes may sometimes be due to improvements in the accuracy of reporting and therefore not represent any real change in the situation. Similarly capacity improvements in other areas, such as the intensity of law enforcement measures, or the increased availability of more accessible treatment provision, mean that the statistical reporting on these measures may show increases that can be useful for documenting increased levels of activity, but may not directly reflect any trend in the underlying situation.

Care must also be taken in reflecting on the snapshot data, as many of the key information gathering tools used are not necessarily conducted on a yearly basis. This implies that in the reporting year 2004, when the most recent data from statistical registries will reflect, for the most part, the situation in 2002, the extent to which data are available for this year will vary between countries according to the cycle of each reporting instrument. For example, national general population surveys are often conducted on a two or three year cycle. Therefore the data available in 2004 will reflect the situation in 2002, but the most recent survey data available in this year might have been collected one or even two years earlier than this. 

Moreover, changes in the drug situation may only be reflected in some measures after a time lag. For example, research on heroin users suggests that they typically first seek help for a drug problem on average several years after their first initiation to the drug. Therefore, any policy initiatives that impact on the incidence (new cases) of heroin use, however effective they might be, would be difficult to detect in the short term in data on help seeking.

It is important to note that the snapshot data do not stand alone, but represent a subset from a larger, on-going data collection exercise.  The summary data that are provided here benefit from the on-going detailed analysis, performed both within countries and at the EU level. This context is important in understanding what conclusions can be drawn from the evidence presented in this document. The snapshot data therefore provides us with a valuable window to make some important observations on the general nature and direction of trends in a dynamic, evolving European drug situation. The analysis is appropriate to the requirements of a consideration of EU level strategic actions, although, it should be noted that the analysis of specific country differences must be placed firmly with in the context of the wider information base on which the snapshot data is based.

Overall Conclusions by Target Area

Below follows an overall assessment of the conclusion that can be drawn on the extent to which the action plan targets have been addressed. The analysis is based upon the data provided in the snapshot and placed within the broader context of the work EMCDDA, Europol and the European Commission.  

Target 1. To reduce significantly over five years the prevalence of illicit drug use, as well as new recruitment to it, particularly among young people under 18 years of age.

The data selected to reflect on the progress that has been made in addressing Target 1 Include survey data from general population and school populations, statistical estimates of problem drug users and information on primary prevention activities in European schools.  

On a simple level the data available do not suggest that a significant overall reduction in drug use prevalence has occurred. Nor is there convincing evidence of an overall reduction in new recruitment into drug use among young people. That said, the picture that is emerging is not a simple one and does contain some positive elements.  

The data on primary prevention activity does suggest that overall there have been some improvements in the coverage of prevention programmes and that there has been a gradual shift to the introduction of structured programmes that are more explicitly based on the available evidence on effectiveness. The extent to which this observation holds true varies considerably by country, and the most convincing evidence for positive change in this respect is restricted to about half of the countries reporting.

The overall analysis of data on drug prevalence has to be assessed in the context of the longer-term time trends. The overall European trend in drug use prevalence was upward during the1990s. The snapshot data suggest that overall we now can see a levelling off in this upward trend, even though it is at what can be considered historically high levels of prevalence. It should be noted that at country level and within drug type there is considerable variation in the extent to which this conclusion is supported by the available data. In addition, the overall trends may not reflect well trends occurring in specific population sub-groups, such as young males in urban areas or ethnic minority populations. If individual countries or drug types evidence is of a levelling off in what was previously an upward trend and at a more specific level of analysis both rises and falls in different types of drug use can be noted.

Some important caveats exist in respect to this picture. First, at the individual country, level and when considering different types of drug, a more complex and divergent story can be told.  Second, countries in which the use of illicit drugs is relatively a more recent historical phenomenon may still be experiencing a more pronounced upward trend. Third, in some specific areas problems the trend may be upwards.  Of particular concern, here is rising levels in cocaine use  in some countries and possibly other stimulants, increased observation of patterns of poly-drug use among those with drug problems and a worry that the an overall stabilisation in prevalence rates at the general population level, may mask an increase in the intensive and long-term use of drugs by a minority of consumers. In general, during this period there has been greater recognition of poly-drug problems and that those identified as having problems with drugs appear a less homogenous population.

One of the most complete and contemporaneous data sets available to judge trends in prevalence rates is that provided by school surveys. ESPAD data, supplemented in some cases by similar data from some national studies, allows a comparison to be made of lifetime prevalence rates among samples of 15-year-old school children in 1999 and 2003, in 9 of the countries relevant to this review.  The picture produced reflects the one described above. Overall, there is very little difference found in lifetime prevalence rates between the two study points. The only marked increases in cannabis prevalence have been in Ireland and Portugal. The rise in Portugal should be viewed in terms of the very low prevalence rates reported in the earlier study.  Only two significant reductions in prevalence rates are found in the ESPAD data - amphetamines in the UK and inhalants in Ireland - but these changes are probably best explained by factors at the national level and do not reflect wider geographic trends. The ESPAD data also provide information on the proportion of students who had used drugs at aged 13 or under. Again no significant changes between 1999 and 2003 are found, with the exception of a decrease in the proportion of students in the UK who reported they use of inhalants for the first time at 13 years of age or younger.

Data from school surveys also contain information on the perceived availability of drugs. This information may have relevance for Target 1 and for Target 4 (to reduce substantially over five years the availability of illicit drugs) although caution should be used in drawing conclusions from this subjective measure to the real availability of drugs – which is itself a concept that is operationally complex to measure.  ESPAD data report no significant overall changes in the answers to questions on drug availability except for the perception that heroin and cocaine may be more available now in Italy and also cannabis in the UK.  

For methodological reasons the data from survey work poorly reflect prevalence of some of the most damaging forms of drug use, in particular the injecting of drugs and the chronic use of heroin and other opiates.  For this reason EMCDDA has developed an indicator of problem drug use along with methodological techniques that allow statistical estimates to be made of the size of problem drug use population. The restricted length of the snapshot time window and the fact that considerable progress has been made during this period by some countries in refining their estimation methods means that caution must be used in drawing any firm conclusion from the problem drug use estimates computed for the snapshot. Nonetheless, evidence from a range of indicators has suggested overall that the rate of drug injecting among heroin users has been slowly falling, that the epidemic rise in heroin use seen in the 1980s and early to mid 1990s has now levelled off and that the number of new cases is now likely to be correspondingly lower.  Caution must be exercised here as estimation of problem drug use is difficult, some of the evidence is mixed and marked differences are observable between countries. Nonetheless, the estimates of the size of the problem drug using population and the injecting population  (as defined by the EMCDDA indicator) seem to have remained stable during the snapshot-reporting period after methodological considerations have been taken into account. Data reported on treatment demand (see Target 3) also suggest that those with heroin problems demanding treatment to drug programmes are less likely to be injectors than in the 1990s and that treatment ratio of heroin users to users of other drugs has fallen among those new to treatment.

In conclusion, no strong evidence exists to support the contention that the primary goal of Target 1 to significantly reduce drug use prevalence has been achieved.   More positively though, the upward trend in most types of drug use evident in the 1990s appears to some extent to have been stabilised – be it at historical high levels.  A more detailed analysis identifies specific areas both for concern and for limited optimism.  Levels of heroin use and drug injecting appear to have also stabilised in the snapshot period and recruitment into both these behaviours is likely to have fallen when compared to the high rates found in the mid 1990s and before. However, this has balanced to some extent by the recognition of more poly drug using problems and greater heterogeneity in those considered most at risk of suffering adverse consequences from their drug use, with particular concern that new problems may be developing due to the intensive use of drugs, such as cannabis and the stimulants, that have historically been more associated with recreational and experimental use.  It should also be noted that this analysis is restricted to the countries of the EU prior to enlargement and that it is not accurate in respect to an analysis of trends for the Enlarged union.

Target 2. To reduce substantially over five years the incidence of drug-related health damage and the number of drug-related deaths.

The objectives of Target 2 are to some extent linked to those of Target 1, as changes in drug prevalence or patterns of use (especially injecting) may themselves be reflected in a reduction of some of the negative health consequences of drug use. To complicate separate assessment further, data on the negative impact of drug use are also an important component of statistical techniques to generate estimates of prevalence.  

The data available in the snapshot to assess Target 2 include information on acute drug related deaths, mortality among cohorts of drug users, estimates of HIV and HCV infection among injecting drug users, rates of HIV incidence related to injecting among the general population and estimates of the distribution of syringes and coverage of syringe exchange provision.

Over the snapshot period there were between 8000 and 9000 recorded acute drug related deaths per year. This figure is probably an underestimate, but considerable progress has been made in improving case definitions and measurement protocols in this area. The vast majority of acute drug related deaths in Europe are associated with opiate overdose. Drug related deaths rose consistently over the 1990s although the upward trend is less pronounced in the second half of the decade.  The reported levels of acute drug related deaths have remained stable in the data available from 1999 onwards with an overall small but statistically significant reduction in deaths detectable between 2001 and 2002. The extent to which this stabilisation after a long period of consistent growth reflects stabilisation in heroin use trends and patterns - injecting heroin use in particular - and the extent to which it is influenced by interventions directly targeting risk behaviour amongst users is unclear.  A far smaller number of deaths are recorded as being associated with the use of stimulant drugs, such as the amphetamine type stimulants and cocaine. The data available here is limited and measurement errors may be a problem since some stimulant related deaths may pass un-recorded, but the data do suggest that in some countries stimulant related deaths may be increasing, even though the overall numbers remain small in comparison with opiate related deaths.  

Although drug use can be linked to an increased risk of HIV infection in a number of ways the most important link is through behaviour associated with drug injecting.  Overall, data from HIV case reporting suggests that among drug injectors in the European countries covered by this exercise incidence rates appears to have stabilised or even to be in decline.  However, national data is often weakest in those countries where the largest IDU-related epidemics are located and it is difficult to accurately assess trends over time.  Considerable variation exists between countries in terms of HIV infection and considerable variation can exist between geographical areas or sub-populations within countries. These factors make determining clear trends difficult and local rises have been reported in countries in which the national data suggest the situation remains stable. This analysis may be over optimistic in respect to the future as the potential for new HIV epidemics in an enlarged European union is considerable. Concerns also exist that progress made in this area in some countries may mean that measures to prevent HIV infection among IDUs is no seen as a priority in the public health agenda and this may mean that some sub-populations may become increasingly vulnerable to the risk of new infection.

Prevalence rates of both HBV (hepatitis B), HCV (hepatitis C) infections among drug injectors remain high but again they vary across countries and across areas and sub-populations within countries. HCV rates are consistently high, although some tentative evidence exists to suggest that the overall situation may be improving, but overall the assessment of short-term trends is difficult and the available data show no consistently clear picture with respect to changes over time.

In respect of the distribution of syringes to drug injectors the changes that are notable within the snapshot data reflect a country whose provision and converge was limited before 1999.  Here, for the most part, considerable increases are observable both in the number of syringes distributed and in the coverage achieved of the target population.  By comparison, in those countries that had widespread coverage prior to 1999 the situation appears relatively stable, although some signs of decreased activity levels were also detected.

Target 3. To increase substantially the number of successfully treated addicts.

The information available in the snapshot to support an evaluation of Target 3 is based on the TDI (Treatment Demand Indicator), which records information on the characteristics of all drug users demanding treatment, and also specifically first-time demands for treatment, at specialist services; it further records information reported by member states on the availability of treatment options in different types services for those with drug problems.  Neither of these measures directly reports on the number of drug users who have been successfully treated.  Currently no such information base exists that would allow this assessment to be meaningfully made and it is not an easy task to operationalise this target in a way that allows relevant, routine data to be collected. However, TDI data and data on overall service provision can be helpful as indirect indicators that allow some consideration of trends in this important area.

Data from the TDI suggest an overall increase in the number of reported treatment demands during the period 1999 to 2002.  Although the extent to which this increase represents improvements in the coverage of the reporting system rather than the availability of services is questionable.  TDI data also suggest some changes in the characteristics of those demanding treatment, especially those new to treatment, with the numbers and proportion of heroin users falling and more diversity in patterns of drug use evident.

Positively, most countries report increases in treatment availability during the snapshot period although quantitative data detailing the number of treatment places is often absent. The observation that treatment availability has increased is most evident for the provision of substitution treatment but most countries also report that services have diversified and also expanded in other areas.

In conclusion, while the exact scale of treatment provision in Europe remains unqualified there is good evidence to suggest that service provision has both expanded and to some extent diversified. This observation is most pronounced for, but not restricted to substitution treatment for opiate dependence.  Not all those entering treatment will be successfully treated but research evidence does suggest large proportion benefit whist they are in contact with services and that for some these benefits will be sustained on leaving treatment. Thus an increase in overall provision is likely to be reflected in an increase in the numbers that can be regarded by different criteria to have been successfully treated although quantification of the progress made is not possible with the information available.

Target 4. To reduce substantially over five years the availability of illicit drugs.

The rationale for this target is that reducing the availability of drugs, especially at the level of the consumer, would result in reduction in the existing demand for drugs and a corresponding reduction in those who will be attracted to drug use (new users). It should be noted here that little empirical research data exist that allow a clear understanding of the relationship of drug availability to consumption patterns. Clearly, if a substance is not available in a market place it cannot be used. In practice, the extent to which this level of reduction can be achieved, or sustained over time, remains unclear - issues like substitution by alternative products, or scarcity causing increasing prices and thus stimulating supply, need to be considered. There are also considerable difficulties in accurately monitoring and reporting on the availability of drugs in the consumer market. Although work is progressing in this area currently, the concept of drug availability itself remains poorly elaborated and a sound operational definition that would be necessary to develop comprehensive monitoring tools remains absent. Measurement is obviously made more difficult by the illicit nature of the drug market. The main statistical information available to allow drug availability to be assessed consists largely of data on drug seizures and related information on purity and prices. As reported earlier, some subjective data on perceptions of drug availability are also found in survey work (questions are included in the Euro barometer and ESPAD; model questions have been also been developed by an expert group of the EMCDDA and it is planned to test these in 2004/5).

The information available in the snapshot, to support an evaluation of Target 4, is based on data received by law enforcement agencies of the European Union, collected at EUROPOL. Where this information was not provided to EUROPOL, complementary data received by the EMCDDA through its Reitox network were also included in the analysis. Although data on drug seizures may be regarded as an indirect indicator of drug availability, it also may reflect law enforcement, priorities and strategies against drug use, trafficking and supply. Consequently, statistical data are complemented here by strategic information, including the level of international co-operation and information on Organised Crime groups.

It can be concluded that the available information does not suggest that the availability of drugs in the European Union has been reduced substantially. Most of countries report increases in both the quantities of drugs seized and in the number of seizures. As the average wholesale prices have tended to decrease at the same time, increased seizures are likely to suggest there is increasing rather than decreasing availability. Additionally, increased co-operation between criminal groups engaged in poly-drug trafficking is to be noted. Such diversification, flexibility and co-operation across national boundaries are clear trends within the drug sector.

Price and purity/potency data on drugs at the retail or consumer level (as opposed to trafficking/supply level) are reported by most of the Member States to the EMCDDA. This information has to be interpreted with caution as it comes from a range of different sources and the comparability and reliability of the data are sometimes questionable. Sampling and data collection strategies are likely to be particularly important in determining results and currently no uniform approach is found between countries in collecting these data. Identifying trends at the European level is therefore difficult: there is evidence of fluctuations both between and within countries but a lack of routine, systematic data that would allow trends to be identified with confidence. In general, the data suggest that prices of illicit drugs at retail level were generally stable or decreasing in most countries and for most drug types during the period of interest. There are some exceptions to this broad assessment and some countries reported increases in the price of white heroin (usually from South East Asia) in 2002, for example.

As far as purities of heroin, cocaine and amphetamine at retail level are concerned, data suggest that in most countries where time series data are available they have remained stable over the 5 years period 1997-2002. Again some exceptions were noted, for example the average purity of brown heroin (usually from South West Asia) increased in 2001 in most countries, and decreased again the year after. The average potency of cannabis products in general has been stable or slightly increasing in most countries; increases in average potency that have been reported appear to relate to home-grown (that is, produced with the EU) cannabis products, while the available data suggest the potency of cannabis products imported into the EU has remained relatively stable. 

The importance of this information and the difficulty in comparing and tracking changes in the price and purity/potency of drugs at retail level suggest there is a considerable need for further investment in developing methods and reporting standards in this area if the tools are to be available to permit the reporting, with confidence, of European trends.

The availability of drugs depends on illicit production and trafficking on the one hand, and law enforcement activities undertaken on the other. The European Union is the major producer of amphetamine and ecstasy, but also drug trafficking to the European Union remains on a high level. The recent enlargement of the European Union by ten new Member States is not only a  significant political and economic achievement,  it also enlarges the European Union consumer market, which will provide new opportunities for criminal organisations. This, with significant profits that can be made, will mean that drug production and trafficking will remain among the core business of organised crime. If counter- measures are inadequate, this will lead to higher availability of drugs in the European Union.

To create a basis for a concerted policy on drugs and to complement national efforts to reduce substantially the availability of illicit drugs, international law enforcement and judicial co-operation in the European Union has been increasingly facilitated by political initiatives. Following the mid-term evaluation of the Action Plan, the JHA Council decided that in the remaining two years of the Plan more emphasis should be put on achieving concrete objectives within the set timetable. In November 2002 the JHA Council endorsed an Action Plan to combat the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs (CORDROGUE 81) and in June 2003 an Action Plan to reduce the supply and demand of heroin, cocaine and cannabis (CORDROGUE 40). Implementation of these Action Plans is on-going and has already had a positive impact on international law enforcement co-operation.

In 2003, an Action Plan on Drugs between the European Union and the countries of the Western Balkan plus the Acceding States was endorsed. Given the increasing role of Albania as a focal point for all sorts of illicit drugs destined for the European Union, a Council Resolution (CORDROGUE 66) was presented which invites Member States to second Liaison Officers to Albania.

Work is underway in the Council Working Party on Police Co-operation, with a view to developing guidelines to implement the “Council Framework Decision on Joint Investigative Teams”. The decision allows for Member States to set up joint teams, composed of law enforcement officers of two or more Member States and Europol staff, to investigate certain types of crime, including international organised drug trafficking.

The Council Working Party on Customs Co-operation initiated specific enforcement operations, known as Joint Customs Operations. These include the intensified targeting by interested Member States of cocaine trafficking in air freight from South America and the Caribbean; of heroin trafficking along the Balkan route and of the trafficking of ecstasy from the European Union to other continents.

In 2003, the European Commission presented a proposal to the Council Horizontal Working Party on Drugs for a Council Decision on information exchange, risk assessment and control on new psychoactive substances (CORDROGUE 90).

In recent years, law enforcement agencies in the Member States have been heavily involved in combating drug trafficking. In most cases this has been based on national strategies against drug crime. Increasingly law enforcement teams in the member States acknowledge the added value that Europol can provide. Consequently, operational support provided by Europol increased substantially in recent years. Operational projects, including Analysis Work Files (AWF) continued or were initiated against organised crime groups engaged in the trafficking of heroin, cocaine, synthetic drugs and precursors. Moreover, Europol maintains expert systems facilitating the identification of the production sites of drugs and provides Training Courses on Combating Illicit Synthetic Drug Laboratories.

In conclusion, within the observational window provided by this report no strong data exists to suggest that the availably of drugs has been significantly reduced. Analysis is hampered by a lack of clear operational concept of availability and by the difficulties of monitoring this field. Despite this conclusion, a range of activities demonstrate how political and law enforcement initiatives can contribute to better implementation and to the harmonisation of criminal law and law enforcement practices. If there has been a diversification and greater coordination of organised crime in respect to the trafficking of illicit drugs then there have also been considerable activities, as detailed above, to improve the coordination and diversity of supply reduction initiatives.  These initiatives demonstrate the potential for improvements in the quality and effectiveness of international co-operation to meet the future challenges that will face an enlarged European Union in this area. 

Target 5.To reduce substantially over five years the number of drug related crimes.

The concept of drug related crime is a complex one and, as part of the work in support of the Action Plan, EMCDDA and EUROPOL were given the task of the development of a conceptual framework that would allow definition of a comprehensive concept of drug-related crime (CORDROGUE 92 REV 1). Such a framework is a necessary component of the development of tools to monitor changes in different aspects of the phenomenon. The identification of conceptual areas for defining drug related crime however does not necessarily imply that these areas are suitable for establishing on-going monitoring instruments in short or medium term. Importantly, data are only currently available for one of the four areas (that of drug law offences) identified within the definitional framework. . Nonetheless, the definition itself is important for informing discussion on areas that may have the potential for future monitoring and research activities and it furthermore illustrates the diversity of the relationship between drug use and criminality.  

The EMCDDA and EUROPOL common definition of the term drug-related crime takes into account the following four broad categories of crime:

An important factor in the quantification and monitoring of drug-related crime is the identification of a sufficient causal relationship between drugs used and crimes committed. It is anticipated that in many cases such a link will be difficult to substantiate with empirical evidence.

In the spirit of the EU Action Plan on Drugs and the note from the Council to the European Council in connection with the mid-term evaluation of the European Union Action Plan on drugs, which clearly link drug-related crime to demand reduction and prevention of drug use, it is envisaged by the EMCDDA and EUROPOL that only those categories considered as ‘drug use related’ – psycho-pharmacological and economic compulsive crimes – will be the object of the new development at European Union level and in the Members States of indicators to assess the situation and monitor trends over time.

Whilst it was possible to identify the key information domains in this area, information is currently only available in the area of drug law offences for commenting on the progress made in addressing Target 5. Although data on drug law offences are available in every Member State, the interpretation of these data in respect of the objectives of Target 5 is not easy, since recording reports or arrests for drug law offences as such does not simply or directly reflect the effectiveness of combating drug-related crime.  It is not just the case that many crimes committed by drug users fall outside this category but also that an increase in reports or arrests may reflect on the one hand increased levels of legal activity and/or on the other hand increased levels of criminality. The limited information on Target 5 with regard to the number of drug law offences and offenders has to be understood in this context.

Comparing data between countries is also not easily accomplished. Reports of offences against national drug legislation (use, possession, trafficking, etc.) reflect not only differences in law but also different ways in which the law is enforced and applied, and the priorities and resources allocated to specific problems by criminal justice agencies. Furthermore, information systems on drug law offences and offenders vary considerably between countries, especially as regards recording procedures, definitions and units of measurement. These differences – in the offences considered as criminal offences, in the stage at which the statistics are made, and in the statistical measurement units – lead to major difficulties when comparing data across several EU countries.

In the last five years for which data are available (1997-2002), the number of ‘reports’ for drug law offences increased in most EU countries. There were a few exceptions to this trend, in Portugal, a decrease of reports for drug law offences has been observed since 2001, although this can be largely explained by changes in the way of dealing with drug possession cases for personal use.  Decreases reported in a few other countries in the 2001 and 2002 period should be interpreted with caution since they might be simply represent very short-term fluctuations unless these downward trends are confirmed by 2003 data, when it becomes available.

Target 6.1: To reduce substantially over five years money-laundering

According to the Financial Action Task Force it is impossible to estimate the extent of the proceeds obtained from this illegal activity, even at the regional level. However, significant information can be made available concerning specific anti-money laundering measures undertaken both at European Union and national levels.

Within Target 6.1 statistical and strategic information was combined to produce trends with regard to suspicious financial transactions and measures undertaken by the law enforcement agencies in the area of international co-operation. In this context, information based on money laundering investigations carried out in the Member States, and suspicious transaction reports (STR) and suspicious cross border currency reports (SCR), already filtered by the competent law enforcement authorities, is a crucial prerequisite of any consistent strategy to fight money laundering and reduce its impact at European Union level.

In 2001 in compliance with Article 30 of 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, Europol set up a specific analysis work file (AWF SUSTRANS) to target criminal organisations involved in money laundering activity and related offences, in particular through suspicious transaction reports (STRs) filtered by Law Enforcement Agencies. Additionally, in July 2004 in order to comply with requirements of CORDROGUE 40, Europol has set up a specific project in cooperation with Member States to target money launderers, in particular money couriers, and disrupt criminal cash flows outgoing the European Union to high risk destinations and source countries.

Illegal cash movements have also been monitored in 2001 and 2002 in the framework of Operation Goldfinger, set up within the Baltic Sea Region Task Force on Organised Crime. Positive results were achieved and intelligence on cross border cash movements was gathered and analysed by Europol. Risk profiles of suspicious assets were enhanced and existing data held within the Financial Intelligence Units were updated.

In order to enhance the knowledge and the level of expertise in the field of money laundering with particular focus on investigative techniques, Europol organised in 2004, in cooperation with the TAIEX Office (Directorate for the Enlargement of the EU) a money laundering training seminar designed for law enforcement experts from new ten Member States plus Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. In the framework of this training program regular follow up is foreseen for the same participants involved in the fight against money laundering.

The general increase of numbers of suspicious transactions has to be seen in this context.

Target 6.2: To reduce substantially over five years illicit trafficking of precursors

Article 12 of the 1988 United Nations Convention against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances requires a system to monitor international trade in drug precursors. The aim of this system is to ensure that the chemicals required to manufacture narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances are denied to those who illegally perform these operations. The Community legislation in the field of the control of trade in drug precursors implements Article 12 of the United Nations Convention.

In the Community a twin track legislative strategy has been adopted to have appropriate measures monitoring external trade, on the one hand, and intra-Community trade, on the other. The aim is to verify the legitimate purposes of the operators and the legitimacy of the trade transactions with a view to preventing diversion from international trade and domestic distribution channels. Procedures and requirements governing external trade in precursors are contained in Council Regulation (EEC) No. 3677/90. Rules on intra-Community trade are contained in Council Directive 92/109/EEC.

Arising from the European Union Action Plan on Drugs 2000 – 2004 the Commission organised an assessment of the Community monitoring system of trade in drug precursors. This assessment was conducted in close co-operation with the Community Member States and lead to a number of recommendations.

Regulation (EC) No. 273/2004 governing intra-Community trade was adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in February 2004, replacing Council Directive 92/109/EEC. It takes on board the central elements of the recommendations made in the assessment. On the basis of the recommendations made in the assessment, a Commission proposal for a new Regulation replacing Council Regulation 3677/90 is currently under examination at Council level.

Both Regulations are intended to apply from August 2005.

Authorisation of operators is one of the key elements of precursor control in the Community. Such authorisation, which may be given in the form of licences (category 1 substances) or registration (category 2 + 3 substances), allows to verify the licit purposes of operators engaged in operations involving precursors. In 1999, 2738 authorisations were issued while in 2002, the number of authorisations increased up to 4124. Another central element of precursor control in the Community is the obligation for operators to notify suspicious transactions to the competent authorities, as industry very often is at the frontline of encountering traffickers seeking to obtain drug precursors. In 1999, 331 suspicious transactions were notified, while in 2002 the number of notified suspicious transactions decreased to 255.

Several Member States, but not all, have concluded Memoranda of Understanding with a view to ensuring close and effective co-operation with their industry. Such Memoranda include specific MOUs for the operations conducted under the umbrella of the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), such as Operation Purple, Operation Topaz and Project Prism. Since 1999, the tendency to conclude Memoranda of Understanding has increased.

In 1999 the number of seizures and stopped shipments was 105, while in 2002 the number reduced to 93.

Precursor diversion being a problem of a worldwide dimension is reflected in a very active co-operation of the Community Member States at international level, in particular as regards exchange of information of individual transactions or in the form of a structured dialogue and operational co-operation under the umbrella of the INCB.

Concluding remarks 

On the Snapshots

The targets of the EU action plan are clearly stated, simple to understand and support the aspirations of Member States to positively address drug problems in Europe through coordinated and evaluated actions. These qualities do not make the operationalisation of them very easy, in that they are pitched both too simplistically and too absolutely, representing a blunt instrument for dealing with the complexities of assessing policy impact on a dynamic European drug situation. A further obstacle to the assessment is that contemporaneous data are not available in all the areas necessary to allow an informed analysis of the extent to which progress has been made over the period in question. These observations are balanced by the fact that the action plan has stimulated work to develop approaches to better monitor and report on the key aspects of the drug situation and the investment in these developments provide a sounder basis for the future assessment of trends. Given the time lag, usually two years, required for the collation and reporting of statistical information, the sequencing of an evaluation strategy will always be difficult. The benefits of having a comprehensive data set on which to base the assessment must be balanced against the need to have timely information available to inform the development of new policy initiatives. The strategy and its action plan also appears to have been a catalyst for increased and better coordinated actions at the European level in a number of important areas, the benefits of which are sometimes difficult to quantify and require a longer observational window to evaluate. It could be argued that regardless of the level that individual targets have achieved in their detail, the strategy and its action plan has been successful in terms of establishing a useful vehicle for the future coordination and evaluation of European responses to the drug problem.

With respect to the individual targets, if a strict criterion is adopted it is not possible to provide unequivocal evidence that they have been achieved.  Furthermore, in most important areas the available information shows that significant reductions have not occurred in respect of the absolute baseline scores generated in the first snapshot exercise. For example; no clear evidence exists that an overall significant fall has occurred in the prevalence illicit drug use; similarly, the evidence does not suggest fewer young people are using drugs, nor that drug availability has been substantially reduced. In respect of Target 5, reducing substantially the number of drug related crimes, the data available simply do not provide sufficient quantification to allow informed comment, although the Target has resulted in the development of a new framework in which to work, which is essential if the extent of drug related crime is to be adequately assessed in the future.

One positive exception is Target 3, where the available information suggests that overall, treatment provision has increased and it could be assumed that this will be reflected, to some extent at least, in an increase in the numbers of drug users who are successfully treated. A caveat in this regard is that hard empirical data on either the capacity of drug treatment services in Europe or their relative success rates with different types of clients is largely lacking.   

 It is important to note that this snapshot analysis does not take into account the dynamics of existing drug trends. Thus, the direction of pre-existing trends, whilst clearly important, is ignored in judging success. This approach could mean that an assessment of the drug situation during the time covered by

the Action Plan risks being overly negative. Overall, the rising prevalence and incidence of drug use observed during the 1990s appear to have stabilized as measured by a number of indicators. Rates of new heroin use and drug injection, two particularly negative behaviours in terms of their public health impact, may even have fallen. The number of acute drug related deaths appears to have stabilized after many years of sustained increase. Similarly, HIV prevalence seems to be largely stable or even falling, although, rises are still occurring in some populations and the situation is different from the perspective of an enlarged EU.  Taken together, Targets 4 and 5 have been a catalyst for a number of European level initiatives that have strengthened law enforcement measures against drug trafficking and supply but do not lend themselves to simple quantification in terms suitable for assessing impact over the short term.

In reflecting on future targets the question should be raised on whether benefits can be obtained by improved coordination with other reporting schedules within both the EU and beyond. For example, the EMCDDA work programme envisages its annual reporting exercise as supplemented every three years by a detailed analysis of trends in the European drug situation and analysis of responses. This reporting schedule could be configured to help serve the needs of a future European drug strategy.  European Members States will also be contributing to the UNGASS final evaluation exercise scheduled for 2008, and it might be worth considering if any synergy is possible with this exercise.        

In conclusion, the overall assessment provided by an analysis of the snapshot data supports the drawing of both positive and negative conclusions, none of which can be made without caveat. Reflecting on the exercise itself allows some valuable lessons to be drawn for the future design of evaluation strategies in this area. Future targets could benefit from better synergy with the on-going investments of member states to improve the monitoring of the drug situation. Important here are the technical working groups of the EMCDDA/Reitox network that mean the planning of a future European drug strategy could benefit from an increasingly robust and sophisticated evidence base and technical cooperation by which to help judge progress. Targets will as a result be possible that better reflect the detail of key policy objectives, that are based upon sound data sources and whose reporting can better take into account the necessary complexity of the questions asked, the impact of underlying trends and differences in national contexts. Similarly, many valuable initiatives in coordination, information sharing and action do not in the short-term result in a direct and observable impact on the drug situation. The question of how to assess the impact of the Strategy and its Action Plan in promoting such activities needs to be carefully considered.

On evaluation

Evaluation is an essential condition for the transparency and legitimacy of public action. In the case of drugs, a field known to be controversial and complex, evaluation is also seen as a key tool in creating an improvement in policy. 

Given the complexity of conceiving an impact evaluation of drug policies at European level and the potential high cost of its implementation, the exercise at European level should be capable of providing indications of the progress achieved. The evaluation of the EU strategy and action plan was complicated by a number of constraints, but for the first time, at the end of 2004, the European institutions and Member States have pertinent information on the progress achieved between the beginning and end of the action plan, as well as on efforts yet to be made. 

In view of the political debate for the post 2004 period, it may be useful to ensure that:

  • the next Strategy paper is conceived so that:
  • it takes into account the results of the 2000-2004 evaluation exercise;
  • it is clear, precise and integrates objectives and targets that will be transformed into operational objectives in the action plan;
  • the Strategy duration will be sufficient to cover at least two action plans;
  • a specific budget is devolved to evaluation at EU level;
  • an evaluation structure can be mandated for the implementation of the exercise;
  • a steering group can be made responsible for the follow-up of the exercise.


  • the general organisational process is conceived so that:
    • a specific budget is reserved for evaluation at EU level;
    • an evaluation structure can be mandated for the implementation of the exercise;
    • a steering group can be made responsible for the follow-up of the exercise.


  •  the European Union’s evaluation tool is drawn up from Member States’ evaluation results of their national policies. This presupposes that the Member States will seek to provide their action plans with:
    • clear and precise objectives;
    • a realistic timetable for implementation;
    • information and evaluation tools;
    • appropriate resources;
    • results that will be transmitted to the Commission.


  •  the EMCDDA and its partners are involved in the evaluation process in:
    • producing improved evaluation framework and tools (snapshot, thematic papers, questionnaires, follow-up tables, Eurobarometers, etc.);
    • improving availability and quality of information concerning situation, responses and policies.
    • contributing to the Evaluation steering group.


Page last updated: Tuesday, 19 October 2004