The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol published an analysis of EU drug markets towards the end of 2019.
At that time, no one could have predicted the dramatic changes that COVID-19 would bring, nor the extent to which it has affected our daily lives. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on drug markets. There is a critical need to understand the extent and nature of this impact to identify any areas that might require further investigation.
The objective of this analysis of EU drug markets is to increase understanding of ongoing developments and their impact on the internal security and public health of the EU in order to inform European institutions and partners in the EU Member States. This is of vital importance for formulating effective responses.
Global restrictions on travel and other measures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have had a temporary disruptive impact on the drug market, leading to shortages of and higher prices for some drugs. Other consequences include:
- The disruption to the supply chain and logistics of drug trafficking in Europe is most evident at the distribution level, because of social distancing measures.
- The movement of bulk quantities of drugs between EU Member States has continued despite the introduction of border controls due to the continued commercial transportation of goods throughout the EU.
- In relation to cocaine, in particular, there is little evidence of disruption to activity at the wholesale importation level; however, experts in some countries report increasing prices and decreasing purity at the consumer level, indicative of localised supply shortages.
- Organised crime groups remain resilient and are adapting their modi operandi to the current situation, further exploiting secure communication channels and adapting transportation models, trafficking routes and concealment methods.
- The current instability has led to an increasingly volatile environment for criminal businesses along the supply chain in Europe and appears to have resulted in increased levels of violence among mid-level distributors.
- Home deliveries, less face-to-face dealing and less reliance on cash as a form of payment seem to be increasing for individual transactions.
- Shortages of cannabis resin have led to inflated retail prices.
- Heroin trafficking continues to exist on many of the known routes. The availability of heroin has decreased in some areas, but this varies depending on national confinement rules and restrictions on movement, with higher prices also reported in some places.
- Cocaine trafficking using maritime shipping containers has continued at levels comparable to or even possibly higher than those seen in 2019.
Synthetic drug production continues in the main European producing zones in the Netherlands and Belgium, as evidenced by the number of illicit laboratories dismantled. However, in Europe and globally, the demand for synthetic drugs used in recreational settings, in particular MDMA, seems to have diminished in the short term due to the closure of venues and cancellation of festivals.