A new report indicates that the availability of cocaine and synthetic opioids is on the rise in Europe, a sign that the continent is feeling the effects of dangerous drug trends that have been gripping the Americas.
The latest European Drug Report, published annually by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), presents concerning trends in Europe's cocaine and opioid markets. A key finding was that cocaine availability appears to be rising in some parts of the continent. Perhaps the most important indicator of this is that in 2015, the price of cocaine fell slightly while the quality of the drug improved. (See graphic below)
Cocaine price and purity in Europe, 2006 - 2015 (c/o EMCDDA)
Cocaine seizures also increased in 2015. Seventy metric tons were intercepted -- mostly in Spain, Belgium, France, Portugal, the United Kingdom and Italy -- while more cocaine residue was found in wastewater in cities.
But it is hard to gauge whether or not increasing seizures have impacted cocaine use. Limited data on consumption did not clearly suggest rising or declining usage rates, although the number of users seeking treatment for the first time did increase in 2015.
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A new phenomenon discussed in the report is the possibility of cocaine processing laboratories being set up in Europe. Cocaine usually arrives to Europe in its white powder form (cocaine hydrochloride, or HCl), which is manufactured from coca paste, or it is merely extracted from other materials to obtain the final product. However, the report states that "seizures of coca paste suggest the existence of illicit laboratories producing cocaine hydrochloride in Europe."
The EMCDDA also warns about opioid abuse trends in Europe and the United States. One of the main protagonists of the ongoing US opioid epidemic is the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl. While fentanyl has not yet triggered a widespread crisis in Europe, more fentanyl varieties are being detected in the regional drug market, while there have been increasing reports of synthetic opioid-related intoxications and deaths.
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The EMCDDA report highlights two large-scale, dangerous developments in global drug markets that have been afflicting the Americas, and that also risk causing damage across the Atlantic.
Europe's increasing cocaine availability is of little surprise. Global supply has skyrocketed over the past few years, primarily as Colombian production has reached its highest level in history. Countries along trafficking routes and consumer markets such as the United States and Europe have seen more cocaine passing through as a result. Yet the key question of whether more availability is directly correlated to a rise in consumption in drug markets remains relatively unexplored.
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Still, Colombia's soaring production -- as well as the possible emergence of European cocaine labs -- may well have allowed for higher drug purity on the streets while at the same time pushing down prices, making it a more attractive purchase for both new and existing users.
Perhaps one of the greatest threats facing Europe's consumer market is the potential influx of fentanyl. Extremely potent, US dealers are cutting this synthetic opioid into recreational drugs in order to boost their "high," but this practice has been blamed for the deaths of scores of users from coast to coast. This drug's proliferation in the United States did not strictly respond to user demand, but was pushed onto the streets by suppliers due to its high profitability. For similar reasons, it is possible that more fentanyl will find its way into Europe's market in future.