STAGE 1. Assessing needs

What steps should be completed?

STEP 1: Explore the magnitude, characteristics and consequences of drug use

One of the first tasks of the needs assessment is to understand the scale of the drug-related phenomenon in the area, as it will enable you to assess the urgency of addressing the problem and judge the need to initiate an intervention.

Abuse and dependence on tobacco, alcohol and other drugs have significant social and health impacts and cause very considerable financial losses. Thorough knowledge of the situation is required when planning, implementing and analysing the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and assist with these problems. 

Information is collected at this stage to respond to various relevant issues: +

  • What is the extent of the phenomenon and where is it located?
  • Which population is affected by the problem?
  • What are the costs of drug use?
  • Is the problem getting worse? Is it getting better?
  • What is causing the emergence of new drug use patterns?

Given the complexity and multiple causes of drug use-related phenomena, data should be obtained from various information sources, various areas should be considered (social, health, education, legal, etc.) and various actors should be involved (some of whom could be potential future collaborators in the intervention) to facilitate communal assessment of the phenomenon.

Sometimes the results of the needs assessment might indicate that certain aspects that were not initially taken into account should be explored in greater detail. For example, let's imagine that the conclusions of the needs assessment reveal the existence of a population with a drug use prevalence that we had not anticipated, so therefore a population that we had not explored. In this case, the needs assessment should be reopened and the characteristics and consequences of drug use in that population should be explored.

It does not tend to be necessary to carry out studies to obtain your own epidemiological data and you should not, of course, embark on that task unless you have the time, knowledge and resources required to do so. In many cases, it is sufficient to consult national bodies or other organisations that carry out epidemiological studies. You probably already have at your disposal local or national data that will be useful at the needs assessment stage. There are various sources where you can find this information:

  • Qualitative information provided by personal sources. +
  • Population surveys. +
  • Demographic indicators. +
  • Use and problematic use indicators +

Much of the information on the magnitude, characteristics and consequences of drug use is available in other countries. The following links can provide you with access to these sources of information. See