Drugs bounce back in Europe after COVID lockdown lull

German authorities seized more than 16 tonnes of cocaine in the northern port city of Hamburg, Germany, February 24, 2020

German authorities seized more than 16 tonnes of cocaine in the northern port city of Hamburg, Germany, February 24, 2020   – 

There has been a rapid bounce back in drug supply and use following COVID-19 disruptions, according to a report released today by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA).

Drug availability remains at high levels across the EU, it found, and in the case of cocaine, surpassed pre-pandemic levels.

Analysis of wastewater from 75 cities in 25 countries — 23 in the European Union, Turkey and Norway — revealed “an overall increase in detections” of cannabis, cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Ecstasy (and its active ingredient, MDMA) is the only drug “for which residues have decreased in the majority of the cities studied”, added the report.

“The take-home message from this report can be summarised in three words: everywhere, everything, everyone,” said EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel.

“Established drugs have never been so accessible and potent new substances continue to emerge. Today, almost anything with psychoactive properties can be a drug, as the lines blur between licit and illicit substances.”

The continued escalation of synthetic drug production within the EU shows the relentless drive by organised crime groups to profit from the illegal drugs trade, said 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,” she said.

However, despite political and public concerns growing around the potential for darknet markets to become a more significant source for obtaining illicit drugs, the report found that revenue for these kinds of markets at the end of 2021 fell dramatically to just under €30,000 per day, down from €1 million a day seen during 2020, according to estimates.

This is likely due to a number of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement activity and long periods of downtime, according to the report.

As COVID-19 restrictions have been relaxed across Europe, drug treatment and other services also appear to have returned to “business as usual”, according to the report, with the addition of some innovative, digital practices adopted during lockdown.

In 2020, an estimated 1.5 million drug law offences were reported in the European Union, an increase of 15% since 2010, with more than half of these offences related to use or possession for personal use.

Meanwhile, across the EU the number of drug-induced deaths reached 5,796 in 2020, with the mean age at death of 41 years.

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