Europe: Annual Drug Report Shows Supply Trends in Flux

Published: 28 May 2013


Europe’s drug supply landscape is “in flux” as new drugs and routes prevail, according to the 2013 European Drug Report published on Tuesday. The report looks at the continent’s most prevalent drug trends and at the most widely used drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, heroin and other opioids, amphetamines and methamphetamines, and ecstasy. The annual report is published by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

 The report highlights the emergence of new designer drugs that mimic the effects of controlled substances while bypassing existing legal restrictions. During 2012 alone, 73 new psychoactive substances were identified by European Union member states. These substances are rapidly developed and quickly and easily replaced when new laws are put in place. This leads to authorities playing an endless game of catch-up. The report also noted that transnational organized crime has become increasingly involved in the production of new psychoactive substances.

Cannabis (resin and herbal) remains the most used drug in Europe and accounted for 61% of the trafficking offenses recorded by the report. The report noted that production of cannabis within Europe is on the rise, and that seizures of herbal cannabis have overtaken that of cannabis resin (hashish) in the last decade. The increase in availability of synthetic cannabis-type drugs that mimic the effects of cannabis has added a new dimension to the cannabis market, the report stated.

Heroin usage has seen signs of decline, with the quantity of heroin seized in 2011 the lowest in the past decade, according to the report. The report attributes the decline to increased efforts by law enforcement to curtail shipments, which helped lead to a heroin shortage in 2010. The shortage of heroin in some countries was so severe that it caused a boom in heroin alternatives, many of which were more potent, less pure, and more deadly. OCCRP published a story on the effects of the heroin shortage in March 2013.

There has been little change in the supply of cocaine to Europe, with the vast majority of the drug still supplied from Latin America, and from Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru in particular. The method of trafficking has changed somewhat, with increased use of container shipments and a change of entry ports. While Portugal and Spain remain the primary entry points for cocaine into Europe, previously unused ports in Bulgaria, Greece, Romania and the Baltic countries shows a diversification of trafficking routes, the report said. The report also highlighted an increase in the number of secondary extraction labs in Europe. These labs are used to extract cocaine from other products used to conceal the drug, including everything from beeswax and fertilizer to clothes and plastic.

Amphetamine use has historically been more widespread in Europe than that of methamphetamine. The 2013 Drug Report shows that while amphetamine use continues to be higher than meth use, there has been an increase in meth use from 2002 through 2011. In contrast to heroin and cocaine, amphetamine and methamphetamine are produced domestically. The Benelux nations are the major production centers for both drugs on the continent, while the Baltic states and smaller operations elsewhere also contribute to supply. Amphetamine related offenses comprised eight percent of those documented by the report, while methamphetamine represented just one percent.