Decreasing prevalence of illicit drugs

28 November 2013, Updated 29 November 2013

The prevalence of illicit drugs is decreasing according to this year's report on the drug situation in Denmark 2013 prepared by the Danish Health and Medicines Authority. 

New figures show that compared to 2000 there is a decreasing prevalence of illicit drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine and ecstasy in the population. Among the young people, where prevalence is the highest, the share of young people under the age of 25 reporting current use of illicit drugs has gone down from 8% in 2000 to 4% in 2013 – i.e. a 50% decrease.

When viewing the drugs on an individual basis, the number of amphetamine and cocaine users is still much lower as is the number of psilocybin mushroom and ecstasy users (SUSY 2013). The use of cocaine appears to be on the same level as in 2010, which is positive as the use of cocaine was on the increase during the first decade of 2000. Cannabis is still the most prevalent drug.

In spite of the documented drop in the experimental use of drugs, an increasing number of poisonings have been recorded in the emergency rooms in Denmark. The number of poisonings recorded as a result of illicit drugs peak in 2012 with 2,028 recorded contacts, and it is assumed that this is a conservative estimate. The increase in the poisonings the past few years is especially seen in those aged 30 and above. From 2011 to 2012, however, there appears to be a marked increase of poisonings among the 20-24-year-olds – an increase from 348 to 439 in the years in question. Among the young people, poisonings are typically seen with cannabis and psychostimulants, whereas poisonings with opioids and compounds of several drugs most frequently appear among the older generation.

Among other health-related consequences of drug abuse, the increased mortality rates should also be mentioned. Drug abusers generally account for very high mortality rates as a result of poisonings and diseases, including HIV and hepatitis. According to statistics from the National Police on drug-related deaths, 210 drug-related deaths were recorded in 2012. This is the lowest number since 1994. The past few years, the number has been significantly higher, and in 2009 as well as in 2010, the number of drug-related deaths was 276 annually with the number reaching a maximum level in 2011 with 285 deaths.

The number of drug-related deaths in Denmark dropped significantly from 2011 to 2012. There seems to be a decline in all regions, but the Region of Southern Denmark showed the most drastic decline.

There are no bullet proof explanations as to why the number of deaths drop, but there are most likely a number of factors involved. It may be due to changes in the drug market, but one might assume that the new initiatives in the municipalities, such as focusing on general interventions, establishment of health rooms and drug consumption rooms, heroin clinics, prevention of infectious diseases and quality in substitution treatment have also had an impact on the trends. Finally, there has been a decline in recent years in the number of drug abusers receiving treatment for the first time with opioids as their main abuse problem. All other things being equal, opioid abuse is what most often leads to premature death.


The drug situation in Denmark 2013