International Overdose Awareness Day: EMCDDA answers key questions on drug-related deaths

How many people die every year in Europe from a drug-related death? Are women and men affected equally? What substances are involved in these fatalities? These are some of the questions answered in the EMCDDA’s ‘Frequently asked questions (FAQs): drug overdose deaths in Europe’, updated today to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

Across Europe, overdose is a leading cause of avoidable death among people who use drugs. The European Drug Report 2022 describes how over 5 800 deaths, involving one or more illicit drug, were reported in the European Union in 2020. This estimate exceeds 6 400 deaths when Turkey and Norway are included. Most overdose deaths in Europe are linked to the use of opioids (heroin or synthetic opioids), although cocaine, other stimulant drugs and medicines also play a role. Four out of five deaths occur in males. Most fatalities occur among people in their late thirties and early forties, although much younger people are also affected.

Effective preventive and response measures exist that would allow many of these premature deaths to be avoided. Treatment and harm reduction options are available for people who use opioids, new psychoactive drugs and stimulants and who engage in polydrug use. Interventions which can reduce the risk of overdose include programmes providing take-home naloxone (the opioid overdose reversal medicine) and drug consumption rooms, which ensure a safer drug use environment.

The FAQs pull together the most recent data on drug-related deaths in Europe to raise awareness on the nature and scale of the problem. The resource also presents situations that increase the risk of overdose, as well as methodologies, references and links to further reading. New trends and developments are illustrated through a range of maps and graphics. Also released today is a video explaining how the EMCDDA monitors drug-related deaths: ‘Drug-related deaths: why data matter to save lives’.

Together, these resources contribute to a better understanding of drug overdoses and responses to them in Europe to support sound policymaking in this area. Addressing drug-related harm and reducing drug-related deaths are priorities enshrined in the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan 2021–25.

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel says: 'This year, once again, thousands of families across Europe have lost a loved one to drugs. Yet overdose deaths are preventable and effective treatment and harm-reduction measures exist that would allow us to avoid this unnecessary loss of life. Risk behaviours and substance use are becoming more complex and are no longer limited to opioids. This means we now need to integrate interventions into a more pragmatic and holistic approach. The EMCDDA is committed to contributing to a healthier Europe by monitoring and informing about drug use and drug-related harms and supporting decision-makers in adopting effective and evidence-based responses. As drug supply and use rebound after COVID-19 disruption, we need to act now and scale up our overdose prevention'.