Prevalence and patterns of drug use indicator (‘GPS’)
Understating the extent and patterns of drug use in the general population, and their changes over time, is a key aspect for understanding the drug phenomenon in Europe and to monitor progress towards EU policy targets.
Prevalence and patterns of drug use in the general population is one of the five key epidemiological indicators, which consist of methodological guidelines for data collection, analysis and reporting in five domains that address key aspects of the prevalence and consequences of drug use.
The primary purpose of the indicator is to allow the estimation of the prevalence of drug use. Further information on the characteristics of the participants and their patterns of drug use allow the investigation of potential determinants and consequences of drug use.
The EMCDDA monitoring standards require the collection of self-reported information by probabilistic surveys of the general population. At its simplest, the proportion of the sample declaring having used specific drugs is taken as an estimate of the prevalence of use within the population on present and past use of drugs, personal characteristics, knowledge and attitudes regarding drugs or other related topics. These surveys should be conducted on a regular basis with a consistent methodology to allow identification of trends.
Almost 96 million adults, or just over a quarter of the adult the 15- to 64-year-old population in the European Union, are estimated to have tried illicit drugs at some point in their lives. The most commonly tried drug is cannabis (55.4 million males and 36.1 million females), with much lower estimates reported for the lifetime use of cocaine (12.4 million males and 5.7 million females), MDMA (9.3 million males and 4.6 million females) and amphetamines (8.3 million males and 4.1 million females). Levels of lifetime use of cannabis differ considerably between countries, ranging from around 4 in 10 adults in France to less than 1 in 20 in Malta.
Conclusions, limitations and future perspectives
Methodological limitations should be considered, concerning comparative analysis across countries especially where differences are small, due to differences in survey methodology, data collection methods and sampling procedures. Population surveys are usually cross sectional studies and therefore they do not allow strict causal inference to be derived.
The objective of the indicator is to contribute to a good understating of the drug issue in Europe, which can be useful for policy makers and professionals. The EMCDDA will continue the work on this indicator in order to improve the quality and comparability within each country and across EU countries.