European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) is a collaborative network of independent research teams in more than 40 European countries and the largest cross-national research project on adolescent substance use in the world. The overall aim with the project is to repeatedly collect comparable data on substance use in as many European countries as possible.

ESPAD 2019 report presents the results of the seventh data-collection wave of the European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD). The data collection took place in 2019, marking the 24th anniversary of ESPAD data collection (1995-2019). Each wave of the project increases the value of the information presented, not only from a European perspective but also for the participating countries.

ESPAD 2019 report is based primarily on the information provided in 2019 by 99 647 students from 35 European countries, 25 of them being Member States of the European Union (sample for Bulgaria – 2864 students). Nearly 700 000 students have participated in the seven successive ESPAD data-collection waves, making the project the most extensive harmonised data collection on substance use and risk behaviours in Europe.

The survey is implemented with the support of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), and in Bulgaria it is supported by the National Center of Public Health and Analyses (NCPHA).

The comparative data show that Bulgaria is one of the countries where there has been a significant decrease in lifetime prevalence of drug use compared to the previous survey – from 30% in 2015 to 19% in 2019.

Bulgaria participates in this project for the fifth time (since 1999), and the highest level of drug use was observed precisely in 2015.

Cannabis is still the illicit drug most used by school students in ESPAD countries. In Bulgaria, cannabis use at least once in the lifetime (17%) is slightly above the average for Europe (16%), and the current cannabis use (in the last 30 days) coincides with the average European level (7.1%). It is noteworthy that for Bulgaria the rate of girls slightly exceeds the rate of boys according to the indicator “cannabis use at least once in the lifetime”, something that is reported in only two other European countries – Slovakia and Malta. For current cannabis use (in the last 30 days), its prevalence is higher among boys (8.0%) than among girls (6.2%).

High-risk cannabis use, explored for the first time in all participating countries in the 2019 survey, revealed that, on average, 4% of respondents fell into this category and are potentially at risk of developing cannabis-related problems. Understanding and monitoring this phenomenon is important for formulating prevention policies. In Bulgaria, the assessment of high-risk cannabis use (4.9%) is slightly above the European average, and girls are at greater risk of developing cannabis-related problems.

On average, 1-2 % of the ESPAD students had ever used an illicit drug other than cannabis at least once. After cannabis, the most widely used illicit drugs were ecstasy (MDMA), LSD or other hallucinogens, cocaine and amphetamine.

In Bulgaria, the level of use of each of the observed illegal drugs (cannabis, cocaine, crack, amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy, heroin, LSD or other hallucinogens), with the exception of new psychoactive substances, is higher than the European average. But it should be noted that this level is nearly 2 times lower than that reported in 2015.

The non-medical use of prescription drugs among adolescents remains a concern. For example, 6.6% of those surveyed reported having used tranquilisers or sedatives and 4% painkillers ‘to get high’ in their lifetime. Bulgaria is one of the countries with the least non-medical use of prescription drugs among students (4.3%).

Full ESPAD 2019 Report