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Crime For Members

Does Austria have a drug problem?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Does Austria have a drug problem?
Pictured are bottles of Naloxone, used to treat a narcotic overdose in an emergency situation. Photo by Angela Weiss/ AFP

Vienna is among the European capitals with the highest number of drug-related deaths. What is the current situation?

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Police in the Austrian capital, Vienna, this week received a special nasal spray used as an antidote for opioid overdose. It's now part of the force's first aid kits, as Austrian media reported.

The spray is used as an antidote for poisoning with opioids such as fentanyl and is part of the standard equipment of US police units. In Austria, the departments specialising in combating drugs will now also receive the spray vials, the Ministry of the Interior confirmed.

Fentanyl is considered to be around 50 times stronger than heroin, and unintentional contact can have serious consequences - including respiratory arrest. "Inhaling large quantities is particularly dangerous," the ministry said, according to the Der Standard report. However, skin contact can also pose a risk under certain circumstances.

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The situation in Austria is different to that in the USA, as Daniel Lichtenegger, Drug Coordinator at the Ministry of the Interior and Head of the Central Office for Combating Drug-Related Crime at the Federal Criminal Police Office, explained to the newspaper. "But of course, we want to be prepared so we don't lag behind."

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What is the situation in Austria?

In the USA, which is plagued by the opioid crisis, the drug is now the most common cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 49. Drugs like fentanyl are estimated to kill around 70,000 Americans every year. But what is the situation in Austria?

The latest data from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) reveals the prevalence of drug overdoses across the EU, highlighting the significant role of opioids.

While around 6,400 drug-related deaths were estimated in the EU in 2022, the report notes this figure is likely an underestimation due to incomplete data from several countries.

According to the available data, opioids, often combined with other substances, were the leading cause of drug-induced fatalities in the EU, accounting for over three-quarters of such cases in 2022. This issue is particularly pronounced in Austria, where opioids were implicated in 92 percent of reported drug-related deaths.

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The country is only behind Denmark (94 percent) and tied with Bulgaria (92 percent). All other European countries where there is available data have fewer than 90 percent of drug-related deaths connected to opioids. 

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When it comes to drug-related deaths per million people aged 15-64, Austria's numbers are still worrying, but not the highest in the European Union (plus Norway and Turkey). Here, Ireland has the deadliest drug problem (97 deaths per million people), followed by Estonia (95) and Norway (86). 

Earlier this year, the Health Ministry sounded the alarm in Austria, when it posted a report showing an increase in fatal overdoses and in the proportion of young deaths.  

Around 35,000 to 40,000 people in Austria are addicted to opioids. According to the report, opioid addiction mainly affects men (three quarters), people aged 25 and over (around 90 percent) and those living in urban areas.

As the report shows, almost half of those addicted to opioids live in Vienna, where 101 directly related deaths were recorded in 2021 (Vienna figures for 2022 were not available in the report).

This makes Vienna the leader in a comparison of federal states and has reached a peak since measurements began in 2003. In 2020, 74 people died from drug overdoses in the federal capital.

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