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The Drug Situation in Norway 2011

Annual report to the European Monitoring Centre
for Drugs and Drug Addiction – EMCDDA. In addition to a description of the drug situation in Norway, the report contains two special issues; Drug-related health policies and services in prison by Tore Rokkan and Drug users with children by Grethe Lauritzen

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The Drug Situation in Norway

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Decline in the use of cannabis

The most recent survey among the general population was carried out in 2009. A surprising matter in that survey was the relatively strong decrease since 2004 in the proportion that had used cannabis during the last 30 days in the under-35 age group. In 2004 it was 4.5 per cent, while in 2009 it was reduced to less than the half.

The 2010 survey, which included people aged 18-30 years, showed that cannabis is still the illegal drug that most young people report having tried (29 %). Significantly fewer have tried amphetamine and cocaine (approx. 6 % for both). Ecstasy and sniffing have been tried by nearly four and three per cent, respectively, while around one per cent of this age group report ever having used LSD, GHB and heroin.

Injecting users - stable situation

The number of injecting users in Norway has probably been quite stable since 2003.In 2009, it was estimated to be between 8,800 and 12,500. Heroin is still the most common drug injected, but, for around 17 per cent, amphetamines are the main drug injected.

Problem users of cocaine

SIRUS has in 2010/2011 participated in a project in which the amount of cocaine used in Oslo was calculated using three different methods. The Norwegian Institute for Water Research has carried out measurements of cocaine in wastewater, while the Norwegian Institute of Public Health has carried out measurements of cocaine among drivers suspected of driving under the influence. SIRUS has used a method based on the reporting of the frequency of cocaine use in four different surveys, both population-based and among inmates in prisons and injecting users. The results of the surveys have not yet been published, however.

In the questionnaire surveys, the respondents were also asked how often they used cocaine. It is thus possible to calculate an annual average number of cocaine users and the number of persons who used the drug more than once a week or more (problem users). On average for 2000-2009, there were approximately 1,800 problem users of cocaine per year in Oslo and 10,200 others who used the drug more rarely. The majority of the cocaine users, almost 50 per cent, were experimental users who had only used the drug one to four times during the last 12 months, while 35 per cent were recreational users (limited use).

Drug-related treatment

Major reorganisations of the health and social system the last decade has led to increased focus on diagnostics, medication and the use of commercial principles in the treatment context regarding the treatment and rehabilitation of substance abuse. This change has been criticised in several different quarters. It has been argued, for example, that the reorganisation threatens to undermine the diversity of treatment options.

One new set of guidelines, For pregnant women in opioid substitution treatment (OST) and followup of families until the children reach school age, entered into force in the course of 2011. The goal is to provide clear, knowledge-based recommendations for the treatment and followup of OST patients during pregnancy and while in hospital in connection with the birth, and for follow-up /treatment of the child and the family until the child reaches school age

HIV stable- high incidence of HCV

The incidence of HIV among injecting drug users has remained at a stable, low level for many years, with about 10 to 15 cases reported per year. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but a high level of testing, great openness regarding HIV status within the drug user community, combined with a strong fear of being infected and strong internal justice in the milieu, are assumed to be important factors. However, the high incidence of hepatitis C shows that there is still extensive needle sharing among this group.

Drug-related deaths. Large proportion caused by other opioids than heroin

In 2009, 285 persons died of drug-related causes in Norway, an increase of 22 compared to 2008. Of the total number that were recorded by Statistics Norway,255 deaths involved opioids with or without additional drugs, 137 were deaths due to heroin, 39 deaths were recorded with methadone poisoning as the underlying cause, and 61 with other opioids, either as poisoning or dependency. 39 of the deaths were coded as suicides, which is probably a conservative estimate of the suicide rate.

The proportion of drug-related deaths among those over the age of 30 has increased steadily. In 2009, this age group accounted for 76 per cent of the deaths. The proportion over the age of 50 appears to have increased as well. In 2009, this age group accounted for 25 per cent of the total number of deaths. Five of the deaths were in the 65 years or more age group. The youngest age groups' proportion of deaths has remained relatively stable, but nine deaths under the age of 20 years in 2009 is the highest number ever registered.

Drug markets

The number of cases and seizures has increased to record levels in 2010. However, with the exception of GHB and GBL, the big increase in cases has not led to seizures of record amounts of drugs.
The number of seizures of heroin is the highest since 2003. The number is far lower, however, than in the period 1995-2003. Moreover, the purity of heroin base has sunk to a historically low level, 21 per cent in 2010 on average, declining further to 17 per cent in first half of 2011. The total seized amount of all cannabis products is not particularly high, which can be explained by the relatively small amount of hash seized. On the other hand, the number of cultivation cases and the number of seizures of marijuana have again increased strongly. Both the quantities and the number of seizures substantially exceed those in the years 2007 and 2008, which were registered as record years until 2010.

In total, the number of seizures of amphetamine and methamphetamine has increased relatively strongly in 2010 compared with the period 2006-2009.

Although 2007 is the only year in which more seizures of cocaine were made than in 2010, cocaine nonetheless appears to have a somewhat smaller market share during the last three years compared with seizures of other drugs. Both the number of seizures and the number of tablets of benzodiazepines have increased since 2008, a trend that was reinforced in 2010. Only in two previous years have greater quantities been found and more seizures made than in 2010.

Of the new stimulants that were introduced to the user market in 2010, it is mainly PMMA that stands out, According to the National Institute of Public Health, PMMA has so far (end of September 2011) been linked to 20 overdose cases with fatal outcomes.

The customs service is uncovering an increasing amount of drugs sent in the post and by courier. This applies in particular to narcotic tablets ordered online. As regards tranquillising narcotic tablets, the smuggling of Rivotril and Subutex appears to have increased in particular. The customs service has also registered an increase in the smuggling of new drugs. New versions of synthetic cannabinoids and other synthetic substances are being uncovered all the time. The challenge is that many of these substances are difficult to stop as they are not yet on the list of narcotic substances. Eight synthetic cannabinoids were listed with effect from 21 December 2011, however.

Last edited: Thursday 9. February 2012
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