The new EU drugs strategy 2021-25 makes explicit that the European response to drugs should be evidence-based and delivered through a balanced and integrated approach, which ultimately must be judged on its impact on the health, safety and wellbeing of our citizens. The EMCDDA is tasked with helping to provide the evidence needed to ensure that European policies and actions on drugs are effective, well-targeted and responsive to new threats and challenges. The European Drug Report (EDR) 2021 arrives at a difficult time for meeting this objective, as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted greatly on all areas of life, including the drug situation and our ability to monitor it. I am therefore extremely pleased that we can still provide the detailed analysis presented in this report, which includes an early assessment of the effect of the pandemic on drug markets and drug use. However, I also believe the value of our work is not simply delivered through accurately documenting past events. We also need to look forward and consider what lessons emerge from the findings of the EDR 2021 in order to ensure that we continue in the future to provide the relevant and timely information required to keep our policies and actions commensurate with the growing challenges we face in the drugs area.
In 2019, the EMCDDA conducted, with its stakeholders, a foresight and horizon-scanning exercise to increase our awareness of how the evolution of the drug situation may impact on our work. Among the overarching conclusions of this work was that many of the factors that would shape the drug problems of the future were external ones. Globalisation, developments in information technology, demographic shifts, alongside issues like climate change and human migration, are likely to have important implications for the future drug problems we face. We already see this, as both the drug market and patterns of drug use are becoming ever more dynamic, complex and globally connected. This has made us reflect on the need for more timely reporting, and to consider if both the data sources we use and the targets we select for our analysis are sufficient to meet both current and future policy development needs.
What we did not expect was that the events of 2020 would demonstrate so profoundly the importance of this reflection. Within a few weeks, we needed to reorientate our work to support our stakeholders by providing enhanced resources for sharing information and best practices. The speed of developments required us to recognise that this could only be achieved through a more interactive model for knowledge co-production. I am proud of the work of the EMCDDA during this period, but I recognise that this was only possible because of the input we received from stakeholders across Europe. Particularly important was the possibility provided by our Reitox network of national focal points to engage in an ongoing conversation on national responses to the pandemic. This highlighted the value of sharing experiences and preliminary information when there is a need for rapid action. Beyond this, we also launched a series of trendspotter studies to collate qualitative and emerging quantitative data to provide a near real-time complementary data source to accompany our routine monitoring information. The latest insights from our third COVID-19 trendspotter, published recently, are summarised here. These results are preliminary, but they help us identify some of the possible longer-term effects of the pandemic on drug markets, drug use and our responses.