European cocaine availability surpassing pre-pandemic levels

The European drug market has seen a ‘rapid bounce back’ of supply and use following the disruption caused by COVID 19, according to EMCDDA’s European drug report 2022, with cocaine availability now surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

A record 213 tonnes of cocaine were seized in 2020, says the document, and more than 23 laboratories dismantled. A recent report from the Irish Health Research Board (HRB) found that cocaine has now overtaken heroin as the main problem drug for people seeking treatment for the first time in Ireland, representing a ‘tipping point’ in the country’s drug trends (

The ever-evolving European market is still seeing NPS appearing at a rate of one per week, the EMCDDA report states, ‘posing a public health challenge’. Last year saw six new synthetic opioids, six synthetic cathinones and 15 synthetic cannabinoids reported for the first time, with the number of NPS being monitored by EMCDDA now close to 900. Wastewater analysis, meanwhile, revealed increased use of cocaine, crack, amphetamine and methamphetamine in many cities, while the average THC content of cannabis resin is now more than 20 per cent and almost double the level of herbal cannabis.

A record amount of cocaine was seized in 2020

The war in Ukraine has added to the volatility of the market, the document states, with potential shifts in trafficking routes as criminal gangs exploit vulnerabilities or avoid affected areas.

‘Darkweb’ drug markets now seem to be in decline, however, as a result of law enforcement crackdowns and frequent scams, with people turning instead to instant messaging apps and social media to buy and sell drugs.

Drug treatment has largely returned to ‘business as usual’ after the pandemic’s restrictions, the report continues, although many services have retained some COVID-era innovations such as e-health provision. However, there is a need to scale up harm reduction services for people who inject drugs, with only four countries meeting WHO targets of providing 200 syringes per year per person and having 40 per cent of high-risk opioid users on substitute medication. There were an estimated 5,800 overdose deaths in the EU in 2020, mostly associated with ‘polydrug toxicity’.

Alexis Goosdeel: Evidence base is crucial to understanding the complex issues we face

‘Established drugs have never been so accessible and potent new substances continue to emerge,’ said EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘Today, almost anything with psychoactive properties can be a drug, as the lines blur between licit and illicit substances. And everyone can be affected, whether directly or indirectly, as drug problems exacerbate most of the other important health and social challenges we face today. This report arrives at a time when major global events are touching upon all areas of our lives. I firmly believe that we can only address the complex policy issues in the drugs field if we base our responses on a balanced and evidence-based understanding of the problem.’

‘The continued escalation of synthetic drug production within the EU shows us the relentless drive by organised crime groups to profit from the illegal drugs trade, placing public health and security at risk,’ added European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson. ‘It is of particular concern that the partnerships between European and international criminal networks have given rise to record availability of cocaine and industrial-scale methamphetamine manufacturing within Europe.’

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