BRUSSELS – Record amounts of cocaine are being seized in Europe as manufacturing of the drug now takes place within the European Union, officials responsible for combating and monitoring drug use in the bloc warned on Friday. .
More than 214 tons of cocaine were seized in Europe in 2020, an increase of 6% compared to the previous year, and experts from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) estimate that this quantity could reach 300 tons in 2022.
With an estimated market value of €10.5 billion in 2020 and around 3.5 million European citizens reporting having used it in the past year, cocaine is the second most widely used drug in the EU after cannabis.
Its availability in Europe has never been higher, with extremely high purity and low prices.
While the bulk of cocaine manufacture still occurs in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia, EU experts are concerned about the processing currently taking place inside the 27-nation bloc, particularly in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands.
Between 2018 and 2020, 45 illicit production laboratories were discovered in the EU.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, EMCDDA science analyst Laurent Laniel said cocaine powder is often smuggled from South America to Europe in carrier materials such than charcoal and plastics, then extracted in local laboratories.
Alexis Goosdeel, director of the EMCDDA, said the availability on the continent of large quantities of cocaine base and paste increases the risk of new, highly addictive forms of crack emerging on European markets.
“We now face a growing threat from a more diverse and dynamic drug market, which is driven by closer collaboration between European and international criminal organisations,” he said. “This has led to record levels of drug availability, increased violence and corruption, and greater health problems.”
The expansion of the cocaine market has also led to an increase in violence and corruption in the EU, with fierce competition between traffickers leading to an increase in homicides and intimidation.
“Violence is a key element for criminal organizations today to ensure they are the strongest in their field of activity,” said De Bolle. “Violence also has a direct impact on citizens on the streets as we see people dying on the streets in the European Union.”
EU experts also looked at the growing methamphetamine market, which has expanded in recent years after being initially concentrated in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 2020, a total of 215 methamphetamine labs were dismantled in the region, according to reports from nine EU countries.
According to Europol, the European law enforcement agency, European synthetic drug makers are working in cahoots with Mexican cartels to increase production.
“We see a clear link, Europe-Mexico,” Europol executive director Catherine De Bolle said. “Mexicans, cartel drug criminals are active on European soil. Chemists from Mexico come to the European Union because they specialize in the production and use of methamphetamine. So we see that they are active in laboratories.”