Credit: RELIS Report 2019

The RELIS National Drug Report 2019 has confirmed a continued decline in the number of drug users among new HIV infections, as well as a downward trend in fatal overdoses in Luxembourg.

The RELIS 2019 report, published by Luxembourg's Ministry of Health, aims to provide an overview of the drug phenomenon in the Grand Duchy, covering drug policy, drug supply and demand, drug use patterns, health consequences and responses, as well as drug markets and crime at the national level.

The latest edition of this report confirmed the continued downward trend in high-risk illicit drug use. Based on the most recent data, it is estimated that the number of people using this type of drugs in Luxembourg is around 2,250, which is equivalent to a prevalence rate of 5.8 users per 1,000 inhabitants aged between 15 and 64 years old. In 2000, this same rate was equivalent to 9 users per 1,000 inhabitants- among the highest in the EU at that time. According to unpublished partial research data for 2018, this downward trend seems to be confirmed.

With regard to the general population, the results of the last representative national survey (EHIS, 2014) indicated that the extent of illicit drug use in Luxembourg was below the EU average and was generally lower than in neighbouring countries, especially with regard to recent use (in the past year). According to the report, cannabis was the most commonly used drug among the general population, having been used by 23.3% of 15-64 year olds at least once in their lifetime. This was followed by cocaine, which 2.5% of the general population (aged 15-64) have reportedly used at least once. According to the latest available data, 27% of adolescents aged 15-18 have taken cannabis at least once in their lifetime. These results coincide with those of an online survey on the use of drugs for recreational purposes, carried out in 2018 in Luxembourg with 1,223 respondents. Among the respondents reporting being a drug user, 81% reported currently using cannabis, followed by cocaine (13.9%) and MDMA (10%) (EWSD Luxembourg, 2018).

Opioids (especially heroin) remained the most commonly used drugs among the population of high-risk drug users. However, first-choice opioid use has been in decline, while consumption of cocaine and cocaine mixes is increasing. Polydrug use also remained common among high-risk drug users.

Among users of supervised drug use rooms, inhalation has been reportedly gaining ground over injection use. Following active work to encourage risk reduction, 51% of those users opt for inhalation, which, according to the Ministry of Health, constitutes a safer mode of consumption and particularly contributes to a reduced risk of overdoses and the transmission of various infectious diseases.

In addition, the number of drug users in treatment has continued to rise, as has the number of people contacting national assistance and risk reduction structures, which were recorded more than 167,000 times in 2018 (150,937 in 2016). There was also a continuous increase in the number of sterile syringes distributed as part of the national syringe exchange programme between 2013 and 2018 (from 190,257 in 2013 to 492,704 in 2018).

The average age of drug users in treatment has increased over the past 20 years (38 in 2018 compared to 28 in 1997). The majority of those seeking treatment were men (76%). The number of opioid users entering treatment has decreased steadily over the past ten years (52% in 2018 compared to 82% in 2008) while the number of people in treatment for cannabis and cocaine use has experienced a discontinuous upward trend over the same period. Since 2011, the number of applicants for substitution treatment for opioids has stabilised.

In contrast to the national increase in new HIV infections among people who inject drugs between 2014 and 2016  (21 cases in 2016), data for the past two years show a marked decline in these numbers (four cases observed in 2018). Although HCV (hepatitis C) infections among people who inject drugs seem to have declined slightly recently, prevalence rates (61.3%) remain high among these same users.

The Ministry of Health recalled that there has been a general downward trend in fatal overdoses at the national level since the deployment of national action plans on drugs and drug addiction: overdoses were the cause of 26 deaths in 2000, compared to four in 2018.

Finally, cannabis seizures represented 75% of the total number of drug seizures in Luxembourg in 2018. The number and quantity of cannabis seized are reportedly increasing (a peak of 216 kg was reached in 2018). Cocaine seizures are also on the rise. Although the number of seizures was slightly lower than in 2017, a record amount of almost 347 kg of cocaine was seized in 2018. Whilst the purity of cocaine on the market tends to increase, its prices tend to go down. As for cannabis, its average THC concentration increased from around 11% in 2010 to 16% in 2018.

To read the full report, in English, see: /uploads/media/default/0001/01/d8bc3151ada29c40f6bdb97ecbf6c9da067438b2.pdf