Europe’s role in international drug production and trade is changing, according to new analyses released today by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA) and Europol. In an in-depth look at the cocaine and methamphetamine markets, the agencies point to increased production activities in Europe and how collaboration between criminal groups worldwide is creating new security threats and expanding the market.
The new analyses cover trends along the supply chain from production and trafficking to distribution and use. They describe a large and expanding cocaine market and a currently small, but steadily growing, methamphetamine market in the EU. They also warn of the heightened threat posed by innovation in production processes and chemical precursors, and a growing range of products that may be hazardous to consumers.
EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel says: ‘Our new analyses show that we are now facing a growing threat from a more diverse and dynamic drug market, that is driven by closer collaboration between European and international criminal organisations. This has resulted in record levels of drug availability, rising violence and corruption, and greater health problems. In response, we need to be even more sensitive to signals coming from the market and invest in greater coordinated action, not only in Europe, but also with our international partners in producer and transit countries’.
Europe is a major synthetic drug producing region, both for domestic and external markets. Increasingly, it is also a key trans-shipment point for drugs originating elsewhere and destined for other world regions. For both cocaine and methamphetamine, there is evidence that Latin American and European criminal groups are partnering in production, trafficking and distribution.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle stresses: ‘The trade in illegal drugs continues to dominate serious and organised crime in the EU, and nearly 40% of the criminal networks operating at the international level reported to Europol are active in drug trafficking. Fighting this illegal trade is a key priority for Europol and the EU. Today's analysis supports us in understanding the market dynamics and is crucial for formulating effective law enforcement responses’.
Today’s findings draw on data and information from the EMCDDA’s drug monitoring system and on Europol’s operational intelligence on organised crime. Taking a threat assessment approach, the agencies present key areas for action at EU and Member State level. These include: rapidly identifying emerging health and security threats, investing in forensic and toxicological capacity to keep pace with innovation, targeting the illicit drug supply chain and reducing vulnerabilities at external borders.
Cocaine — record seizures and increasing production in Europe
Today’s analysis shows that the European cocaine market is expanding, driven by unprecedented levels of trafficking leading to historically high availability. High levels of cocaine production in South America have resulted in record quantities seized in Europe. Europe is also a destination and transit zone for cocaine bound for the Middle East and Asia. More production is also now taking place inside Europe, indicating changes in the region’s role in the international cocaine trade. A large variety of individuals and criminal networks shape the complex supply of cocaine to, and within, the EU. The potential for new smokable cocaine products to emerge on the market raises concerns about future health risks.
Cocaine is the second most commonly consumed illicit drug in the EU after cannabis, with a market retail value in 2020 estimated at EUR 10.5 billion (range EUR 7.7 billion to 12.8 billion). Around 3.5 million Europeans (15–64 years) report having used the drug in the past year, 14 million in their lifetime. While cocaine use remains concentrated in the south and west of Europe, the market appears to be spreading eastward.
For the fourth consecutive year, record amounts of cocaine (214.6 tonnes) were seized in Europe in 2020, a 6% increase from 2019, suggesting high availability of the drug. Three countries — Belgium (70 t), the Netherlands (49 t) and Spain (37 t) — accounted for around three-quarters of the European total, but large quantities were also seized by Italy (13.4 t), France (13.1 t), Germany (11 t) and Portugal (10 t). Most cocaine seized in Europe arrives in maritime shipping containers. Entry points of cocaine shipments are diversifying, with greater amounts seized in ports in Eastern Europe and Turkey.
Most cocaine manufacturing still takes place in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The new analysis describes however, how cocaine processing is now taking place inside Europe (mainly in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands). Large quantities of chemical precursors used in cocaine production have been seized from illicit production laboratories and at European borders. Recent data also suggest that large amounts of cocaine powder have been processed in Europe from intermediary products, such as coca paste and cocaine base. Some of these are smuggled from South America in carrier materials (e.g. charcoal, plastics) and then extracted in specialised facilities. Availability in Europe of large amounts of cocaine base and coca paste creates a risk of new smokable cocaine products (e.g. ‘crack’) emerging on European consumer markets, posing considerable health and social risks.
Methamphetamine — a small, but steadily growing, market
Methamphetamine — the most widely consumed synthetic stimulant drug in the world — still plays a relatively small role in Europe’s drug market. Nevertheless, the latest analysis shows the growing threat posed by this drug in the region, as availability increases and use spreads to new areas. Methamphetamine is produced inside the EU to supply both domestic and external markets. Europe is also a destination and transit zone for this drug from other production hubs (e.g. Iran, Nigeria, Mexico) bound for Asia and Oceania. The emerging methamphetamine industry in Afghanistan poses a threat to the EU, given competitive prices and long-established drug trafficking routes to Europe.
Today’s analysis shows that long-term trends point to a steady market expansion. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of methamphetamine seizures in the EU 27 more than doubled (from 3 000 to 6 200), while the quantities seized increased by 477% to 2.2 tonnes in 2020 (EU 27).
In 2020, nine EU Member States reported the dismantling of 215 methamphetamine laboratories. Historically production in Europe typically occurred in small, but widespread, ‘kitchen’ laboratories in Czechia and its neighbouring countries. While these still exist, there is now growing concern about production facilities located in Belgium and the Netherlands, where methamphetamine can be produced on a considerably larger scale.
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Source: The EMCDDA, 06/05/22