A new report on drug trafficking and consumption in Europe has provided key insights into how record highs in cocaine production in Latin America has impacted the supply of the drug across the Atlantic.
The European Drug Report 2020, published by the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), breaks down drug trafficking dynamics from 2018 to 2020.
With the world's largest cocaine producer, Colombia, manufacturing a record 1,137 metric tons of cocaine in 2018, the eyes of Latin American traffickers have firmly locked on Europe -- the world’s second-largest consumer market after North America. Wholesale prices are also higher in Europe, where a kilogram of cocaine sells for $42,000 on average, compared to $28,000 in the United States, according to figures reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). What's more, the European market still presents significant potential for expansion, according to the new report.
Below, InSight Crime lays out four major takeaways from the European Drug Report 2020.
1. Flow of Cocaine Booming During Pandemic
The flow of cocaine into Europe has increased during the pandemic. Data collected by the EMCDDA -- which is based on seizures and intelligence information -- suggest that drug trafficking faced no severe disruptions, with methods that exploit commercial trade, such as trafficking via shipping containers, being particularly unaffected.
In this sense, the pandemic is accelerating pre-existing trends in cocaine trafficking to Europe. An earlier EMCDDA report stated that maritime cocaine seizures involving shipping containers increased sixfold between 2006 and 2014, making maritime cargo smuggling the dominant trafficking method to move drugs across the Atlantic.
With air traffic severely reduced amid the pandemic, maritime shipping is now even more crucial to transatlantic cocaine traffickers, the report noted.
Traffickers also managed to circumvent pandemic mobility restrictions with dedicated reception networks and corrupted officials already in place in major European ports and cities. For example, the Port of Rotterdam -- Europe’s largest port -- saw cocaine seizures reach 25 tons in the first half of 2020, double the amount recorded in the same period last year.
2. Cocaine In Greater Quantity and Quality
Record cocaine seizure suggests that an "unprecedented" amount of cocaine is entering Europe, leading to increased availability for consumers, according to the EMCDDA report.
The latest figures for cocaine seizures by European Union (EU) countries come from 2018, when a record 181 tons of cocaine was seized. This represents a 27 percent increase over 2017 and a 151 percent jump over 2016. Meanwhile, reports indicate that the EU is on track for another record year in cocaine seizures in 2020.
Furthermore, the purity of street-level cocaine is at its highest level in a decade, according to the report. Half the samples of tested cocaine recorded a purity level above 75 percent.
Looking at the large increase in seizures reported by Italy, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom in 2019, one might conclude that the entry points for cocaine have diversified. The opposite is true; the bulk of cocaine is captured in three countries. In 2018, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands accounted for 78 percent of the EU’s total cocaine seizures.
3. Expansion of Cocaine Markets within Europe
Cocaine usage in Europe has been increasing for the past decade.
Using surveys on drug use, the report found that an estimated 1.3 percent of the population, or over 4 million people, used cocaine in 2018. The EMCDDA analysis of wastewater for cocaine metabolites shows a jump of 120 percent from 2015 to 2019.
The wastewater analysis also suggests that cocaine is becoming more common in eastern European cities.
Growing cocaine usage in Eastern Europe -- a region with almost 300 million inhabitants -- indicates that the European cocaine market is likely to continue to expand, and that there is potential for organized crime groups in Latin America and Europe to reach untapped regions.
4. European MDMA Production Keeps Rising
The report also states that European synthetic drug production is strong, carrying implications for Latin America.
Production of MDMA -- the abbreviation for 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, the main active ingredient in the drug commonly known as ecstasy -- is booming in Europe. Seizures in Europe of MDMA have been trending upwards since 2010, and the report notes that production locations have diversified. In 2018, twenty MDMA laboratories were detected in the Netherlands, two in Spain, and one in Sweden.
Hundreds of thousands of MDMA pills are smuggled from Belgium and Germany to Latin American countries, in particular to Argentina. Once there, the drugs are also trafficked to wealthier nearby countries, such as Chile.