Cocaine ‘resurgence’ in EU as South America output rises: watchdog

Much of the cocaine that arrives in Europe starts off in South American countries, such as Colombia
AFP

Brussels (AFP) – Europe is witnessing a “resurgence” in cocaine use as the drug’s output increases in Latin America, an EU watchdog reported Thursday, voicing concern over tens of thousands of people seeking treatment for the first time.

An estimated 2.34 million people between 15 to 34 years old used cocaine in the last year in the European Union, or 1.9 percent of that age group, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said.

“The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America,” EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said.

Under the headline “resurgence of cocaine in a dynamic drug market,” the report said wastewater analysis, the presence of purer strains and increased seizures all pointed to cocaine becoming more available in Europe.

Its findings were based usually on figures from 2016 and 2017.

It said there were increases of cocaine residue in municipal wastewater in 26 of 31 European cities surveyed in the last three years.

The highest traces were found in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain, with the lowest in eastern European cities.

The agency said the purest strains of cocaine in a decade were being sold on the street, even if the price has remained relatively constant.  

The authorities also made 98,000 seizures of the drug amounting to 70.9 million tonnes in 2016, up from 90,000 seizures in 2015, the agency said. 

The centre noted that 30,300 people were admitted for the first time to specialised treatment centres in 2016, up nearly 20 percent over 2014.

Though treatment centre admissions have not returned to the high levels a decade ago, Goosdeel warned: “We must be concerned about the health implications of cocaine.” 

Goosdeel stressed “the growing importance of providing effective prevention, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for cocaine users”.

– Local drugs production –

In Europe, cocaine is most commonly available in the form of white powder, though also found in the smokeable form of crack cocaine. 

It is made from the leaves of the coca bush, which is cultivated mainly in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

Traffickers, the agency said, send the cocaine to Europe via passenger flights, air freight, postal services, private aircraft, yachts and maritime containers.

It estimated the EU cocaine retail market at a minimum of 5.7 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in 2013, the latest figures available. 

Around 500 million people live in the 28-nation EU.

The report noted that more cocaine now appeared to be entering northern ports such as in Belgium than southern ports like those in Spain, the historic entry point.

In 2016, Belgian authorities seized 30 tonnes of cocaine, about 43 percent of the annual total seized across the bloc. In contrast, Spain seized 15.6 tonnes.

Despite concerns over cocaine, the agency noted that cannabis remained the most widely consumed drug in Europe, with 17.2 million young people aged 15 to 34 years old using it in the last year.

Some 77 percent of the 800,000 drug use or possession offences reported in the EU in 2016 involved cannabis, it added.

More broadly, more than 92 million Europeans between 15 and 64 years old have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime.

An estimated 1.3 million people were treated for illegal drug use across the bloc in 2016.

Though long a market for drugs from South America, north Africa and central Asia, production may be increasing within Europe to target home markets, it said.

The report referred to laboratories in Europe that process cocaine or produce ecstasy, while organised crime groups are involved in methamphetamine production.

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