Is the opioid crisis becoming a threat for Europe?

Mar 24, 2020

A recent article published in the renowned medical journal The Lancet has raised concerns of the opioid crisis potentially facing Europe in the coming years. In the article, the authors discuss the increasing use of opioids in the Netherlands, where opioid medications were previously only used to treat cancer pain, but are now also used in the treatment of non-cancer chronic pain.

Meanwhile, according to recent data released by Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), the number of times the country’s ambulance service administered naloxone, a medication used to treat opioid overdoses, has increased by 40% since 2017. The report states that in 2017, ambulance service administered naloxone for opioid overdoses 628 times. In contrast, in 2018, the number of naloxone administrations increased to 873.

“The rise of around 50% in the number of times our crews have administered this life-saving treatment over the past few years reflects the growing social issues we see in relation to mental health and related usage of both drugs and alcohol,”

Dr. Nigel Ruddell, medical director of the NIAS, in his interview with BBC News

In recent years, Project Solidify, a collaborative initiative created by the European Forum for Urban Security, was launched to implement and maintain supervised consumption sites throughout Europe. The project was created with the goal to prevent the ramifications and spread of the North American opioid crisis in Europe. Introduced in January 2018, the $62.7 million initiative has been used to “create a network among municipalities with existing drug-consumption rooms and others that are interested in opening them.” As part of the project, partners collaborate by exchanging relevant information and research, as well as by providing technical assistance to each other.

Ten major cities, including Barcelona, Brussels, Lisbon and Paris, as well as many organizations have been participating in the initiative. “Cities are looking for new ways of handling these drug epidemics… They needed to find out what works in some places and what doesn’t in others,” Project Solidify program manager Moritz Konradi said in his interview with Stanford Social Innovation Review.

However, according to new findings published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, a large proportion of the 1.3 million high-risk opioid users in Europe, who are defined as individuals who take part in “injecting drug use or regular use of opioids, mainly heroin”, still remain outside of dedicated treatment programs. 

According to researchers, potentially effective strategies to reduce opioid related deaths in Europe include risk assessment and intervention programs to improve the use of opioid analgesics, such as prescription drug-monitoring programs, patient education on pain management to decrease opioid prescribing, and the implementation of evidence-based primary prevention programs to decrease the demand for opioids.