The expenditure makes the drug market a major source of income for organised crime gangs in the European Union. This figure appears in Europol’s 2019 EU Drug Markets Report, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol. Around two-fifths of this total, 39%, is spent on cannabis, 31% on cocaine, 25% on heroin and 5% on amphetamines and MDMA.
The report studies trends in the supply chain from production and trafficking to distribution and sales. It describes how the drug market has wide-ranging repercussions for both health and security and how a holistic approach is vital for effective drug control policies.
The latest statistics show how the overall availability of drugs in Europe continues to be extremely high and that consumers have access to a wide variety of highly pure, incredibly potent drugs at lower or unchanged prices. One of the significant cross-cutting themes of the report is the environmental impact of drug production, including deforestation and the dumping of chemical waste, which are ecologically harmful and incur security risks and elevated clean-up costs.
The report highlights the growing importance of Europe, both as a target market and as a drug-producing region, and explains how the violence and corruption which has long existed in traditional drug-producing countries, is now increasingly evident in the EU. The document analyses the many consequences of the illicit drugs market, one of which is its negative impact on society, which can be seen in gang violence, drug-related homicides and the strain it places on public institutions.
It also explores the drug industry’s links to a wide range of other types of criminal activity, such as human trafficking and terrorism, as well as the negative repercussions for the legal economy, including how the laundering of drug profits causes problems for legitimate businesses.
The report expresses concern about the increased diversification of maritime drug-trafficking methods and the misuse of general aviation, including private planes and drones, for criminal purposes. The use of post and parcel services for drug trafficking is also rapidly expanding, following the increasing trend for shopping online in Europe, and the rise in the number of parcel deliveries as a result.
The surface web and the darknet, as well as social networks, messenger services and mobile apps, are all used as platforms to sell drugs online. And while the darknet market continues to be resilient, increasing numbers of online shops and vendors catering to specific nationalities or language groups have also appeared. Illegal firearms, encrypted smartphones and fraudulent documents are some of the key tools increasingly used in drug trafficking.
The report contains an in-depth analysis of each of the most popularly used drugs in Europe:
- Cannabis: the largest drug market in Europe, with some 25 million Europeans (15-64 years), having used the drug in the past year. The report illustrates that, while cannabis herb and resin still dominate, cannabis products in Europe are increasingly diverse.
- Heroin and other opioids: serious health risks and heroin derivative problems. The use of opioids still accounts for the largest share of drug-related harms, including deaths, associated with drug use in the EU.
- Cocaine: record production levels and expanding markets. The cocaine market is the second-largest illicit drug market in the EU, with an estimated minimum retail value of €9.1 billion.
- Amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA – large-scale production in Europe for internal consumption and exportation: they account for around 5% of the total drug market in the EU, with an estimated retail value of at least €1 billion for amphetamine and methamphetamine, and €0.5 billion for MDMA.
- New psychoactive substances: slow-down in the number of new detections but substances are potent and present a severe health threat. NPAs are diverse substances which are not subject to international drug controls.
With an ever more complex, adaptable and dynamic drug market, the report underlines the need for the EU’s policies and responses to be equally agile, adaptive and cohesive.