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Alexis Goosdeel, Director of the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), told MEPs on the Civil Liberties Committee that drug dealers had found “new means” to serve drug users because of the restrictions on movement imposed in many Member States.
Speaking via a video link, Goosdeel said that, overall, there had not been a reduction in drug use because dealers had found other channels to continue the trade.
He also said more had to be done to protect people like social workers who had “exposed themselves” to possible infection by continuing to work with drug users during the pandemic.
Such people, he said, were often not given sufficient protective equipment.
Goosdeel presented the findings of a report by the agency, conducted in conjunction with Europol, on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the drugs situation in Europe.
He said, “Trafficking has continued despite the restrictions. This has resulted in higher prices, but the illegal drugs market has proved very resilient and dynamic during the lockdown. Organised crime groups have adapted themselves.”
The new methods found to supply drugs include using delivery services. “Dark net” websites have also increasingly been used to buy drugs during the health crisis, he told the meeting.
With restrictions now being eased, he said the “big fear” is a “huge” increase in the availability of drugs.
Goosdeel said the study showed there had been a rise in many Member States in the use of cannabis, with many users “stockpiling” the drug “in anticipation of the lockdowns.”
“Trafficking has continued despite the restrictions. This has resulted in higher prices, but the illegal drugs market has proved very resilient and dynamic during the lockdown. Organised crime groups have adapted themselves” Alexis Goosdeel, EMCDDA Director
While there had been a slight fall during the lockdown in the availability of “party drugs”, such as cocaine and ecstasy, he said, “I am not sure this trend will continue, though, now that life is starting to get back to normal in many Member States.”
He told the Committee that “one key lesson” for future pandemics or a second wave of Coronavirus is that “all professionals who work with drug users, who have tried to provide a continuity of care during the pandemic, should in future have full access to protective equipment.”
This, he said, had not been the case since the start of the outbreak and had proved a “big handicap.”
“I hope we can learn from these lessons,” he added.
Goosdeel also said there have been “some gains” due to the lockdown, including a wider agreement that, in dealing with drug users, “it should be a question of care, not punishment.”
He also took the opportunity to appeal for more funding for the agency, warning that the amount provisionally earmarked under the EU’s next long-term budget, the MMF, was “insufficient.”
He said, “The sum is not consistent with the importance of our work. It is not sustainable for the agency. We must have a fair budget to do what we do or we may have to cut services and jobs. I am just asking for fairness.”