The huge cocaine market in the European Union (EU) and the smaller methamphetamine market are booming and pose a growing threat to public safety and health, Europol and the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned on Friday.
These two EU agencies, the latest joint report dating from 2019, highlighted Europe’s central role in the development of the cocaine and methamphetamine market at a press conference in Brussels.
A “more diversified” drug market
The EU faces a “growing threat posed by a more diverse and dynamic drug market, which relies on close cooperation between European and international criminal organisations,” the report said.
“This has resulted in record levels of drug availability, increased violence and corruption and worsening health problems,” said Alexis Goosdeel, director of Lisbon-based EMCDDA.
Cocaine represented 10.5 billion euros in 2020
The market for cocaine, the second most used drug in the EU after cannabis, is “expanding, driven by unprecedented levels of trafficking, resulting in historically high availability”. In 2020 it therefore represented 10.5 billion euros.
For the fourth consecutive year, record quantities of cocaine (214.6 tons) were seized in Europe in 2020, 6% more than in 2019, of which three quarters in Belgium (70 tons), the Netherlands Low (49 tons) and in Spain (38 tons ).
While cocaine production is concentrated in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru – where production increased – processing now takes place in Europe, mainly in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.
“Significant” Health and Social Risks
“Large amounts of chemical precursors used in cocaine production have been seized in illegal production labs and at European borders,” the investigation describes.
In addition, the increasing availability of intermediates – such as coca paste and cocaine base, imported in charcoal or plastic – increases the risk of marketing crack (a smokeable derivative of cocaine), “with significant health and social risks”.
Methamphetamine seizures increased by 477%
Methamphetamine, the most widely used synthetic stimulant drug in the world, continues to play a “relatively secondary role in the European drug market”, the authors point out, even as the latest data point to a “growing threat” of this product in the global EU.
Between 2010 and 2020, the number of methamphetamine seizures in the EU more than doubled, from 3,000 to 6,000, while the quantities seized increased by 477% to 2.2 tonnes in 2020.
In 2020, methamphetamine was one of the most seized drugs in mailings. Historically, production in Europe has taken place in small “kitchen” laboratories in the Czech Republic and neighboring countries.
Afghan production ‘economically attractive’
Europol and the EMCDDA say they are “concerned” about the development of laboratories in Belgium and the Netherlands, which have increased in size and production since 2019, producing methamphetamine on a “significantly larger scale”.
Production from Afghanistan is another concern: While the country does not appear to be a major source of EU supplies, the relatively low wholesale price of Afghan methamphetamine may be “economically attractive to criminal networks” along established heroin smuggling routes.
The increase in violence correlated with that of drugs
The authors also warn against the rise of violence and corruption on European soil.
In the major ports – such as Antwerp in Belgium, the first gateway for cocaine – “more and more workers are threatened or are offered large sums of money to support the traffic,” says Catherine De Bolle, director of Europol.
As a result of growing rivalry between criminal networks, “more and more people are falling out” during the settlement, this Belgian official added. The phenomenon affects the Netherlands, Belgium, but also France and Spain.
Despite disrupted deliveries during the first lockdowns in 2020, the report estimates that the cocaine trade has not suffered from the health crisis. Sea container trade (which carries most of the traffic through) quickly recovered to pre-Covid-19 levels.