Cocaine trafficking reaching record highs, says EU drug agency

More than 140 tonnes of cocaine were apprehended in 2017, twice the amount that was intercepted in the previous year. [photopixel/ Shutterstock]

Cocaine seizure in the EU reached record highs in 2017 and the trafficking of synthetic drugs has also increased, according to this year’s European Drug Report. A closer look into Berlin’s drug help centre shows how drug consumption is linked to mental health. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Approximately 96 million Europeans aged 15-64 have already used illegal drugs. This is the conclusion of the European Drugs Report published on Thursday (6 June).

Overall, drug imports appear to be on the rise. Cocaine has never been seized as much as in 2017, warned the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in its study.

Cannabis continues to be the number one drug in the European Union with more than 17 million Europeans using it in 2018, in ever more diverse forms. The legalisation of the drug in some regions of the world is driving the market forward, with new cannabis products coming onto the market all the time, the European agency wrote.

The processing of cannabis in concentrates, liquids for e-cigarettes or edible products makes it increasingly difficult to discover the substance. At the same time, the concentration of the plant’s own active substance THC has doubled in the last decade,  meaning the effects of the substance are also becoming stronger.

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Marijuana-derived medicines became legal on Monday (13 June) in Macedonia, which joined over a dozen European countries that have already authorised the products for certain patients.

Heroin use also seems to be increasing. Some 5.4 tonnes of the hazardous substance was seized by EU member states in 2017. And far more is being intercepted at the Turkish border. In the same year, security officers collected more than 17 tonnes of heroin, some of which was probably destined for the European market.

Synthetic substances such as methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) are not only appearing in larger quantities of greater variety, but their production within the EU is also on the rise. In 2017, 8.6 million tablets were intercepted in Turkey, more than was found in all EU member states combined.

Cocaine, however, is the drug that is breaking all records.

More than 140 tonnes of cocaine were seized in 2017, twice the amount seized in the previous year. This is partly because production in the South American countries of origin has increased, the EMCDDA indicates on demand. But it is also due to international police collaboration which allows authorities to adapt to changing drug smuggling methods and has led to some significant findings in shipping containers.

Interestingly, however, the substance seems to be getting purer and this may be why an increasing number of people are seeking treatment for cocaine addiction. European clinics reported a 37% increase in new patients between 2014 and 2017.

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Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced his intention to close every legal cannabis shop in Italy “one by one”, saying he would even consider toppling the government if his coalition ally, the Five Star Movement, refuses to back him.

Amphetamines to party and cannabis to come down

The head of Berlin’s drug emergency service, Andrea Piest, sees the realities that correspond to the report’s figures on a daily basis.

She observed that cocaine use is not only increasing but it is also becoming more common to mix it with other consumption habits, often in combination with gambling and alcohol.

In addition, especially in Berlin, artificial party drugs are becoming more varied.

“We are observing an increase in functional, societal consumption. Many take amphetamines to party and cannabis to come down. Then they take painkillers to get through the week. The aim is to optimise the drugs’ performance and adapt one’s mood to the situation. This type of consumption is not new, but has increased significantly over the years,” said Piest.

The types of drugs consumed generally depend on regional factors such as availability and price. There is hardly any crystal meth in Berlin but on the border with the Czech Republic, the substance is cheap and very widespread.

Socio-cultural factors also play a role.

“In environments where there is a lot of pressure to perform and where one’s own profile is important – in the start-up scene, among freelancers or within the media industry, for example – people use ego-enhancing and performance-enhancing drugs to be able to persevere for a longer period,” she added.

Mental health issues cost EU countries more than €600 billion

In many EU countries, mental health is still a taboo. However, the economic impact of psychological disorders is a loss of 4% of GDP and changes in the labour market only aggravate the situation, according to a report by the OECD.

Drugs for mental health problems

Ways of obtaining drugs are also changing. According to Europe’s drug agency, social media and the darknet are playing an increasingly important role. They allow individuals to trade drugs themselves or to get them delivered by a “drug courier”.

There are even apps that enable the acquisition and consumption of drugs. With location software, for instance, one can find the closest syringe delivery point more easily. Some apps can be used as drug diaries.

Regular drug use is often linked to psychological problems such as anxiety disorder, depression or borderline disease, explained Piest.

Some of the people she cares for are well integrated professionally but smoke cannabis to fall asleep, for example.

Others have long since lost all form of autonomous self-control and desperately seek help from the drug emergency service, which organises suitable help or helps to refer them to a hospital or addiction therapy, for example.

But Piest has also observed “an increasing number of social impoverishment cases, where people are quickly and deeply descending down the social ladder,” she said.

However, this is not due to the consumers themselves, but to the fact that more people are coming to live in Berlin, while drug help centres are not receiving additional financial support.

“Unfortunately, this means that the support we offer will be limited,” Piest said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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