Amphetamine is the most common synthetic stimulant available in Europe, and it constitutes a large and stable market worth at least 1.1 billion euros annually. In a new analysis report published recently, EU Drug Market: Amphetamine, two Union agencies highlight the sophisticated production of amphetamines in the EU, as well as the impact on the environment.
The analysis carried out by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) highlights that the amphetamine process covers the supply chain from production and trafficking to distribution and use. It also describes the processes, materials and criminal actors involved at the different stages and levels of the market.
Europe is a major world producer of amphetamine, along with the Middle East. These are the two regions where consumption is concentrated. In Europe, amphetamine is mainly consumed in powder and paste form, while in the Middle East it is mainly in tablet form. It is estimated that about 10.3 million European adults (aged 15-64 years) have used amphetamines in their lifetime, and 2 million have taken them in the past year.
Almost all amphetamine consumed in the EU is made domestically. Production is mainly concentrated in the Netherlands and Belgium, where it is usually carried out in large-scale facilities using complex equipment. Production is based on methods using an internationally restricted chemical, which is normally produced in Europe from unrestricted designer precursors imported from China.
European amphetamine producers are both adaptable and innovative. Traditional production methods have been simplified over the years to use fewer chemicals and less equipment, while providing a similar end product, but with higher profits.
There are some cases in which the manufacture of the consumer product is not finalised in the laboratories where it is synthesised. Instead, amphetamine is exported as base oil and converted to amphetamine sulphate in other laboratories. This causes concern about the expansion of these conversion centres to more European countries.
Between 2019 and 2021, 337 facilities related to the illicit production of amphetamines were dismantled in the EU. Large-scale amphetamine production generates large amounts of chemical waste that harm the environment, creating risks to human health and very high costs for local municipalities.
EU drug-related criminal networks do not appear to be otherwise involved in the pill trade and EU member states do not report any significant use of these capsules. European countries are mainly involved as transshipment points between producing countries outside the EU (Lebanon and Syria) and destination markets in and around the Arabian Peninsula. The report raises the question of whether the demand for pills in these markets may present opportunities for European drug producers to increase amphetamine production for export.
The criminal networks involved in the illicit amphetamine trade are business-oriented and highly adaptable. They often use the resources and infrastructure of others or engage in joint criminal ventures. The Europol document proves how logistical support has become a parallel business, in which some criminal actors acting as service providers, specialising in providing the chemicals, equipment and expertise required to set up and run production facilities.
The findings are based on data and information from the EMCDDA drug monitoring system and Europol’s operational intelligence on serious and organised crime. Based on a threat assessment approach, the agencies highlight key areas for action at the EU and member state level, which include:
- Improving the strategic intelligence image.
- Strengthening responses to reduce supply and improve security.
- Driving international cooperation.
- Investing in capacity building.
- Strengthening policies, security responses and public health.