There are ‘no signs of a slowdown’ in the development and discovery of new psychoactive substances (NPS), according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s (EMCDDA) latest report on the continent’s drug markets. A hundred new substances were reported for the first time in 2015, and the EU’s early warning system is now monitoring close to 600.
As the UK government delays the implementation of its beleaguered Psychoactive Substances Act (see below), the report also warns that, given the nature of the market and the ‘continuous stream’ of new substances, it is ‘unfeasible’ that all of them could be controlled. ‘It is unlikely that any regulatory system can be designed to sufficiently limit the stream of new substances being manufactured without resorting to a ban on a huge range of chemicals,’ it states.
Europeans spend at least EUR 24bn a year on illicit drugs, says the document, with evidence of increasing links between drug trafficking and other criminal activities, including terrorism. Criminals have also been quick to exploit the opportunities presented by the internet and increased globalisation, it says, and warns that instability in regions neighbouring the EU could also have a ‘profound’ effect on Europe’s drug market.
Cannabis is estimated to account for 38 per cent of the entire retail market for illicit drugs, while cocaine is the continent’s most commonly used illicit stimulant, with a market estimated to be worth at least EUR 5.7bn per year. The heroin market, meanwhile, is estimated at EUR 6.8bn a year, with recent signs of increasing availability that ‘may signal increased harms’. Levels of opium production in Afghanistan have remained high, and there is evidence of ‘increasingly flexible and dynamic’ production techniques and trafficking routes, says the report, including via the Southern Caucasus, Africa, Iraq and Syria.
‘The EU drug market is driven by two simple motives: profit and power,’ said EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘Understanding this, and the wider impacts of drug markets on society, is critical if we are to reduce drug-related harm.’
2016 EU drug markets report at www.emcdda.europa.eu