Production and availability of illicit drugs on the rise in Europe

Written by Rory Watson on 8 June 2018 in News

Illicit drugs are increasingly being manufactured in Europe as well as imported from traditional sources such as Latin America, West Asia and North Africa, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction warns in its latest report.

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The annual analysis, released in Brussels on 7 June, documents discoveries of illicit cocaine and heroin producing centres, a rise in the number of ecstasy laboratories being dismantled, increased production of high potency cannabis and greater involvement by organised crime.

The report, covering drug developments in the EU-28, Turkey and Norway, notes that drugs are more widely available. In 2016, over one million seizures took place, 92 million people between 15 and 64 had tried drugs during their lifetime and 1.3 million were treated for drug use.

“This year, for a wide range of substances, we are seeing some worrying signs of increased levels of drug production now taking place within Europe,” the report concludes. Some of the synthetic drugs produced in the EU are exported to North and South America, Turkey and the Middle and Far East.


Commenting on the findings, Dimitris Avramopoulos, the EU Commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said: “We are seeing higher drug production and availability in Europe today. On top of that, the illicit drug market is highly dynamic and adaptable and therefore all the more dangerous.”

Cocaine is the most commonly used illegal stimulant in the European Union. In the past year, some 2.3 million 15 to 34 year olds used the drug whose purity at street level in 2016 reached its highest concentration in a decade.

Waste water analysis found that between 2015 and 2017, cocaine residues increased in 26 out of 31 European cities. The highest traces were found in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK and the lowest in Eastern Europe.

The number of cocaine seizures in the EU rose from 90,000 in 2015 to 98,000 in 2016 and first-time admissions into specialised treatment clinics reached 30,300 in 2016 – over 20 per cent higher than two years earlier.

Trafficking routes and methods are changing. Portugal and Spain remain important entry points into Europe. But large seizures are now being made in container ports further north. In 2016, Belgium confiscated 30 tonnes of cocaine – some 43 per cent of all seizures of the drug in the EU.

“The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America” Alexis Goosdeel

Alexis Goosdeel, the EU drugs agency’s director said: “The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America.”

He pointed to the challenge the phenomenon poses for public health authorities. “These changes underline the growing importance of providing effective prevention, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for cocaine users.”

New drugs, known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), remain a major public health challenge with a new natural or synthetic product coming onto the market every week. By the end of 2017, the Lisbon-based EU agency was monitoring 670 new drugs, compared with around 350 four years earlier.

These “legal highs” affect the central nervous system, causing hallucinations and behavioural and mood changes. Many are sold as herbal smoking mixtures, others mimic the effects of heroin and morphine, but are considerably more potent, and are available in novel ways such as nasal sprays.

Commissioner Avramopoulos pointed out that new EU-wide rules will come into force later this year making it easier for law enforcement agencies to clamp down on new psychoactive substances.

Download European Monitoring Centre for drugs and drug addiction's new 2018 European Drug Report

About the author

Rory Watson is a Brussels-based freelance journalist

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