Illicit drugs: EU report unveils new worrying trends in smuggling and consumption

Brussels, 31-1-2013 — / — Europe is entering an important new era in the supply and demand for illicit drugs — a development which is challenging current policies and responses. This is according to the first joint EU drug markets report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA)and Europol released today in Brussels. The two EU agencies have joined forces to provide the first strategic analysis of the European illicit drug market in its entirety.

In the report, they describe a market which is increasingly dynamic, innovative and quick to react to challenges and one which requires an equally dynamic, innovative and agile response across Europe. The report unveils the ‘changing face of organised crime in Europe’: while, historically, the EU drug market has focused on specific drugs trafficked by specialised operators along well-defined routes, the contemporary market is more ‘fluid’, with new routes and multi-substance consignments becoming more common.

“This timely report shows the increasingly joined-up nature of the modern European drug market, one of the most complex and invasive criminal phenomena of our times. Organised crime groups are now more likely to deal in many substances at once and are more likely to join forces. Drug trafficking is also diversifying, both in terms of the complexity of the routes chosen and the drug types moved along them. This all calls for increased cooperation at EU level. National measures are simply insufficient, no matter how robust they are. By combining insights from the EMCDDA’s monitoring of Europe’s drug phenomenon with Europol’s operational understanding of trends in organised crime, the analysis offered by this report is unique”, said EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström, presenting the findings today.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright explains: “International drug trafficking remains the principal activity of most organised crime groups. They are adapting to new criminal opportunities and changing smuggling methods and routes to evade law enforcement, and we have noticed an increase in the exploitation of legitimate commercial transportation options, such as containers, aircraft, couriers and postal services. This allows drugs to be moved through multiple transit points making them harder to intercept. Internet technology has also emerged as an important facilitator and is commonly used in the marketing and sale of drugs”.

Also detailed in the report is Europe’s role as a key global source of the precursor chemical used to manufacture heroin (acetic anhydride) and as an important player in the packaging, marketing and promotion of products containing new psychoactive substances.

“For synthetic drugs, and increasingly cannabis, the EU remains an important drug-producing region”, notes EMCDDA Director Wolfgang Götz. “The trend for producing illicit drugs close to their intended consumer markets, where they are less likely to be intercepted, is a growing one. We are now paying an increasing cost for this development in terms of community safety, public health and the burden placed on already stretched police resources”.

According to the report, globalisation is an important driver of developments, with more countries now used as transit, storage or production points. Furthermore, the Internet is having a profound impact, both as communication tool and online marketplace. But innovation is also seen in the area of production: the EU is cited as a key ‘source of expertise and know how’ regarding intensive cannabis cultivation, synthetic drug production and cocaine concealment.

Other findings of the report include the connections between cocaine and cannabis resin trafficking networks, the increasing importance of Africa as a transit and storage area, and how crime gangs based in North-West Europe play a pivotal role in the distribution of virtually all types of drug across the EU. Among the action points proposed are that law-enforcement actors, to a larger extent, should prioritise intelligence gathering on high-value individuals and high-profile criminal groups. Also, the speed of developments in the area of synthetic drugs means that Europe needs to scale up its early-warning capacity for new substances on the market.

The report highlights how coordinated actions at EU level can make a difference. Adopting an approach which is both pragmatic and applied, the agencies identify key conclusions and learning points to inform future policies and actions (MEMO/13/51 and case studies).

Police images available for download, from investigations into drug smuggling and production:

For more information

Video: Interviews with experts and other footage. Clean feed with footage for download by broadcasters available here.

Link to the report:

EU drug markets report — a strategic analysis

Case studies

Photos and graphics

Cecilia Malmström’s website

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DG Home Affairs website

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