Drug Overdose Deaths in Europe

We recently looked at the drug overdose death rate in the US. This time we’re going to look at Europe.

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Map showing the drug overdose death rate in Europe.

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Although the drug overdose death rate is many times higher in most US states compared to the worst European countries. It’s still interesting to see how the European countries are doing.

For this map, I decided to not show the United Kingdom as one, but show its countries. The UK’s drug overdose death rate is 4.0. But we can see, when looking at its countries, that this reveals something interesting. Two countries stand out straight away in Europe, Scotland and Estonia.

Drug overdose deaths have increased significantly in the past 5 to 10 years in Scotland and are still increasing. Most of the deaths involve people who’ve taken more than one drug or combine drugs with alcohol or prescription drugs. Heroin and methadone are involved most in the drug overdose deaths. The use of benzodiazepines is increasing significantly in recent years. Most of the deaths occur in poor urban areas, in particular in Dundee and Glasgow.

Another country with a serious drug problem is Estonia. It has the highest drug overdose death rate in Europe, even higher than Scotland. Most of the drug overdose deaths in Estonia are caused by Fentanyl. A massive law enforcement surveillance operation in 2017 led to a big bust and a big drop in the drug overdose deaths in Estonia. Sadly, this didn’t last long. Unable to find Fentanyl, users started to inject themselves with a mix of synthetic drugs, including amphetamines. New drugs like Flakka are also making their way onto the streets in Estonia now Fentanyl is hard to get. Estonian police believe the majority of the synthetic drugs in Estonia, comes from China.

Apart from Estonia and Scotland, we can see that the Scandinavian countries and the British Isles have a much higher drug overdose death rate than the rest of Europe. Oslo is known to have one of the highest drug overdose deaths rates of all cities in Europe.

On the other end, we can see that the drug OD death rate is low in the Netherlands and Portugal. Both countries have decriminalised the use of drugs. Meaning, that drug users can ask for help without the fear of being charged for possesion or use of drugs. In most Scandinavian countries, drugs are still very illegal and this could be a cause for the high drug od death rate, as users won’t seek help for fear of getting in trouble with the law.

The high drug overdose rates in the United States might make it look like Europe doesn’t have any drug problems, but that is absolutely not true. The British Isles and the Nordic countries still have one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the world. Although Europe doesn’t have an opioid crisis as bad as the United States, there are still countries in Europe that are suffering from serious drug problems.

The data for this map comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and is from 2019.


  1. Although I haven’t been personally affected by the addiction/overdose crisis, I know about the callous politics involved with this very serious health/human issue: Government talk, alone, about increasing funding to make proper treatment available to low- and no-income addicts, however much it would alleviate their great suffering, can easily create loud opposition by the general socially and fiscally conservative electorate.

    The reaction is largely due to the preconceived notion that drug addicts are but weak-willed and/or have somehow committed a moral crime. Ignored is that such intense addiction usually does not originate from a bout of boredom, where a person repeatedly consumed recreationally but became heavily hooked on an unregulated often-deadly chemical that eventually destroyed their life and even that of a loved-one. We now know pharmaceutical corporations intentionally pushed their very addictive and profitable opiate pain killers — I call it the real moral crime — for which they got off relatively lightly, considering the resulting immense suffering and overdose death numbers.

    In this world, a large number of people, however precious their lives, can atrociously be considered disposable. Then those people may begin perceiving themselves as worthless and consume their addictive substances more haphazardly. Although the cruel devaluation of them as human beings is basically based on their self-medicating, it still reminds me of the devaluation, albeit perhaps subconsciously, of the daily civilian lives lost (a.k.a. “casualties”) in protractedly devastating civil war zones and sieges. At some point, they can end up receiving a meagre couple column inches in the First World’s daily news.


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