Selected issue 2
A gender perspective on drug use and responding to drug problems

Relevance of gender-specific information in the drug field at European and international level  |  Gender differences in drug consumption and drug-related problems  |  Gender-specific approaches in responses to drug use  |  Conclusions  |  References

Relevance of gender-specific information in the drug field at European and international level

This selected issue explores how gender influences not only patterns and levels of drug consumption in Europe but also how responses to drug problems are planned and implemented. This is an issue of acknowledged importance, with gender issues at the core of some of the key objectives of the EU drugs action plan 2005–2008, which highlights the importance of providing accessible and good-quality drug services (4). Concerns in this area are not new: over two decades ago, a first call was made to European policy-makers to pay more attention to gender-specific issues, with particular focus on women’s needs (5), and this theme has been taken up in a plethora of research papers and articles. It is now accepted that understanding gender differences in drug-related behaviours is a critical requirement for developing effective responses (6). Ensuring equality of access to services and sensitivity to gender-specific issues within services are two of the key themes for developing high-quality care in this area.

Clearly, the potential coverage of discussion on gender and drug use is considerable, and it is therefore necessary here to restrict attention to those aspects that are supported by gender-specific differences in data reported at a European level. The focus of this selected issue is on examining differences between men and women in relation to the prevalence of drug use, patterns of drug use and drug-related problems and exploring how these issues are reflected in gender-specific approaches to prevention, treatment and harm reduction. As with any comparative exercise at this level, there are limitations in the data available (see box on methodology). For example, the available epidemiological data do not always include a gender breakdown, and when data do exist figures relating to women are sometimes low and difficult to interpret. It is also worth noting that information on responses predominantly describes interventions designed for women because men are seldom explicitly targeted – despite increasing evidence that young males in particular may represent an important group for developing targeted, gender-specific interventions.

(4) Details of this can be found at

(5) At the 1984 Ministerial Conference of the Council of Europe Pompidou Group; policy recommendations on 'Women and Drugs' were later adopted at a European conference.

(6) The concept of bringing gender issues into mainstream society was clearly established as a global strategy for promoting gender equality in the Platform for Action adopted at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing (China) in September 1995. The Beijing Declaration states that if gender perspectives are to be reflected in policies and programmes then statistics related to individuals should be collected, compiled and analysed, and presented by sex and age to reflect problems, issues and questions related to women and men in society.