For the purposes of the IDPC work plan, we have divided Europe into three sub-regions – Western Europe, Eurasia, and South-East Europe. The Western Europe sub-region covers the following countries: Ireland, United Kingdom, Portugal, Spain, Iceland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Finland.
In general, this region has had a long standing and high level of drug use, creating a very lucrative market second only in scale and value to the market in North America. The main illegal drug consumed in Western Europe is cannabis, with significant markets also for heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and ecstasy. While there is clear evidence that the overall use of drugs in this region has stabilised in recent years (and in some countries is clearly falling) the level of use and related health and social harms (such as overdose deaths and drug related crime) remain at worrying levels.
While policy responses to drug problems remain the primary responsibility of national governments, who create and pursue policies in the context of their own political and social priorities, it is possible to identify common themes across the region. The most striking of these is the level of priority afforded to the issue – all countries have long established, and relatively well resourced, strategies and programmes for responding to drug use, and (through the support provided by the EMCDDA – a regional centre for the collection and analysis of data), a focus on information, evidence and evaluation as a basis for policy making. It is also possible to identify a broadly shared European approach to drug policy – emphasising a balanced approach in which efforts to reduce the harms associated with drug use receive equal or greater attention than efforts to reduce the scale of illegal markets. This balance can also be observed in the general support for policies that incorporate principles of harm reduction and social inclusion.
At a regional level, member states of the European Union co-ordinate their approaches through the agreement of an EU Drug Strategy and Action Plan, the current version of which runs from 2009-2012. Progress made by the member states (and European commission and agencies) is reviewed through regular meetings of the Horizontal Working Group on Drugs, at which common EU positions on international aspects of the issue are also discussed.
The IDPC Western Europe region will maintain respectful contact with priority governments and regional bodies, and identify opportunities to positively influence the development and review of policies and programmes.