Risks related to drugs

Many drugs have intoxicating effects that contribute to potential harms. Harmful effects can originate from a single occasion of drug use, such as an overdose or an injury resulting from intoxication, or from chronic use potentially associated with a diagnosis of dependence or addiction, such as health problems, a range of social, legal, financial, or emotional problems.

Sciensano’s Unit Illicit drugs monitors the following harms closely:


Drug-related mortality are key harms associated with substance use and have a significant contribution to premature mortality among adults. 

Non-fatal overdoses or Emergency admissions

A unique insight into acute health harms can be provided by hospital emergency services, which widen the scope of monitoring health consequences of drug use. For the moment, the Unit Illicit drugs can rely on the Euro-DEN Plus expert network set up at the European level, which reports drug-related hospital emergencies from a network of sentinel hospitals across Europe. 

Driving under the influence

Driving under the influence is the offense of driving, operating or being in control of a vehicle while impaired by alcohol or drugs (both recreational drugs and those prescribed by physicians). Lab results from blood or oral fluid tests are shared with the Unit Illicit drugs.

Drug-related infectious diseases

Sharing of drug use equipment (e.g. to inject or to inhale) increases the risk of transmitting and acquiring blood-borne infections, such as HIV, hepatitis B or C viruses (HBV and HCV), and invasive bacterial infections. These drug-related infectious diseases constitute a high morbidity and mortality burden among people who inject drugs and people who inhale drugs. Drug use before and during sex is also linked to an increased risk to get infected by viruses such as HIV, HCV and bacterial sexually transmitted infections.

To monitor these drug-related infectious diseases, the Unit Illicit drugs:

High-risk drug use 

This indicator collects data on the prevalence and incidence of recurrent drug use that is causing actual harms (negative consequences) to a person (including dependence, but also other health, psychological or social problems), or is placing that person at a high risk of suffering. Two well known drug use patterns considered as high-risk drug use are injecting drug use and opioid use. These types of drug use can be monitored mainly through the treatment demand indicator (TDI) or through specific projects that include self-reported questionnaires (e.g. Push or Drug Vibes).

Mental health comorbidities

Mental health problems are common among people with a substance use disorder. These patients exhibit more severe clinical and psychosocial problems than those patients without additional mental health problems.

Self-reported questionnaires can assess the presence of mental health comorbidities. These tools can be included in surveys such as Drug Vibes and the Health Interview Survey.

Sciensano also monitors the pilot-project ‘dual diagnose’ of the ministry of Public Health, which created 2 specific units in hospitals for the treatment of patients with a diagnosis of both mental health and addiction.

Burden of disease

The Belgian national burden of disease study quantifies the health impact of 37 key diseases, including drug and alcohol use disorders, in terms of Disability-Adjusted Life Years (healthy life years lost due to morbidity and mortality).


Please visit our Unit Illicit drugs pagefor more information about our work on drug-related monitoring, research and support to policymakers.

Sciensano collects and analyses data on the different types of drugs, the patterns of drug use, harms, health and social responses, the drug market and the regulations and policies implemented with regard to drugs in Belgium.

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