Almost a third of Europe’s 7585 drug-related deaths in 2015 were in the UK, as the number of overdoses across the region rose for the third consecutive year, according to the European Drug Report 2017.

The report paints a grim picture of rising drug use and addiction against a backdrop of cheaper prices. With the addition of figures for Norway and Turkey the annual death toll rises to 8441, a 6% increase on 2014.

The UK’s drug fatality rate is double that of Germany, which has the next highest level of narcotics-related deaths (15% of the European total), although the statistics are skewed by under-reporting in some countries. Deaths attributed to heroin are notably on the increase in the UK, which also has the highest number of addicts.

Mortality rates among high-risk drug users sit at around 1-2% a year, with opioid users at the highest risk. In Europe, overdosing continues to be the main cause of death among high-risk drug users, and over three quarters of overdose victims are male (78%).

 Drug-induced deaths

Europe as a hub

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which produced the report, highlights the role that Europe plays in the global drug market.

Many of the drugs entering Europe come from South America, West Asia and North Africa, while new psychoactive substances often come via China. European countries also serve as transit points for drugs destined for other continents, as well as exporting their own locally-produced illegal substances.

The UK reports a high level of drug seizures, and together with France and Spain accounts for more than 60% of all confiscated drugs. Of the one million drug seizures, 70% are cannabis – mostly small amounts confiscated from individual users.

 Estimates of drug use in the European Union

Online drug sales via the darknet are booming. Studies have estimated that narcotics sales were responsible for more than 90% of revenue on darknet marketplaces between 2011 and 2015. And nearly half (46%) of all these drug sales – €80m worth – originated from vendors based in Europe.