Is Europe Facing an Emerging Opioid Crisis Comparable to the U.S.? : Therapeutic Drug Monitoring

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Focus Series: Focus on the Opioid Crisis

Is Europe Facing an Emerging Opioid Crisis Comparable to the U.S.?

van Amsterdam, Jan PhD; Pierce, Mimi MD; van den Brink, Wim MD, PhD

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Therapeutic Drug Monitoring 43(1):p 42-51, February 2021. | DOI: 10.1097/FTD.0000000000000789


In the U.S., an opioid overdose crisis has emerged, attributable to over-prescription of opioid analgesics, driven by aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies, followed by surging heroin overdose deaths, and more recently, by the high mortality rates predominately because of illicitly manufactured fentanyl and analogs of fentanyl. In Europe, the use of prescription opioids for pain management has also increased in the last 2 decades, although it is debatable as to whether this could lead to a similar opioid overdose crisis. To address this issue, recent trends in opioid prescription rates, prevalence rates of fatal and nonfatal incidents, and addiction care treatment were used as proxies of opioid-related harm. The current overview, comparing opioid use and its negative consequences in Germany, France, the U.K., and the Netherlands, using the same indicators as in the U.S., demonstrates that there is no evidence of a current or emerging opioid crisis in these European countries. Scotland, however, is an alarming exception, with high rates of opioid-related harms. Considering that the use of prescription opioids has been declining rather than increasing in Europe, an opioid crisis is not anticipated there yet. Authorities should, however, remain vigilant.

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