Global Cocaine Use Hits Record High in Post-Coronavirus Rebound

cocaine or other drugs cut with razor blade on mirror. hand dividing white powder narcotic
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The global demand for cocaine has reached record levels as use rebounds following coronavirus lockdowns according to a report released Thursday. North America and Europe lead the way in demand for the illicit substance.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said coca cultivation rose by 35 percent between 2021 and 2022 on the back of the fresh peak in demand.

Findings suggest new supply hubs have emerged in West and Central Africa while traffickers were using international postal services more often to get drugs to consumers.

Europe and North America remain the single largest markets for cocaine, followed by South and Central America and the Caribbean.

Use in Africa and Asia was “still limited” however the U.N.’s Ghada Waly said the potential for the market to expand there was a dangerous reality.

The Global Report on Cocaine said the production increase was the result of an expansion in the cultivation of coca bush, as well as improvements in converting coca into powdered cocaine. It says:

Seizure data suggest that the role of Africa, especially West and Central Africa, as a transit zone for cocaine on its way to markets in Europe has picked up substantially since 2019.

Both the total quantity seized in Africa and the number of large seizures appear to have reached record levels during 2021.

The report said coronavirus had a “disruptive” effect on drug markets as international travel was severely curtailed even as night clubs and bars were shut during the pandemic lockdowns to further thwart suppliers.

“However, the most recent data suggests this slump has had little impact on longer-term trends,” the report says. “The global supply of cocaine is at record levels.”

Other key findings include:

  • Colombia still dominates trafficking routes although paths to Europe have evolved
  • Consumption in Australia peaked in the middle of 2020, dropped by 50 percent the following year and picked up “moderately” in the last few months of 2021
  • Mexican and Balkan criminal groups have moved closer to the centre of production to gain access to supplies
  • The use of crack cocaine is on the upward trend in several western European countries including the UKBelgiumFrance and Spain
  • In Ukraine, the market had been expanding, but since Russia’s invasion last February the demand has been disrupted drastically

Arrests and seizures have also skyrocketed. Interceptions of cocaine shipments by law enforcement around the world recorded seizures reaching a record high of nearly 2,000 tons in 2021.

The report shows a criminal landscape fragmented into myriad trafficking networks. Examining these groups’ modalities, the report found new traffickers filling gaps and an array of so-called “service providers” lending supply-chain services “for a fee”.

Angela Me, Chief of the UNODC Research and Analysis Branch, said the report contains a wealth of information about the growing use and supply of the drug.

“With its latest knowledge and trends on the routes, modalities, and networks employed by criminal actors,” she said, “it is my hope that the report will support evidence-based strategies which stay ahead of future developments in cocaine production, trafficking, and use.”

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