A recent report on drug trafficking and consumption in Europe highlights the acceleration of existing trends and the emergence of new ones, both of which impact Latin America’s criminal landscape.
The European Drug Report 2021, published by the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), deconstructs trafficking dynamics from 2019 to the end of 2020.
In previous years, the report’s relevance to Latin America revolved principally around cocaine, whose future now lies firmly in Europe where the price of a kilogram reaches nearly $42,000 on average – far surpassing the roughly $28,000 per kilogram price in the United States.
This calculus seems to have convinced Latin American traffickers of Europe’s potential as a market for other illicit drugs. According to the 2021 report, they are now also increasingly exporting methamphetamine to Europe, as well as moving downstream to facilitate local European methamphetamine production and cocaine extraction. Inversely, these developments may also be encouraging greater exports of European synthetic drugs to Latin America.
Below, InSight Crime provides four major takeaways from the European Drug Report 2021.
Cocaine Imports Still Skyrocketing
Europe is now the global epicenter of the cocaine trade. In 2018, Europe seized a record 177 metric tons of cocaine. In 2019, that record was shattered, reaching 213 metric tons. Over two-thirds of the cocaine was seized in three countries: Belgium (65 tons), the Netherlands (44 tons) and Spain (38 tons).
Precise seizure data is not yet available for 2020, but it is clear cocaine imports remained high. A Forbes article estimated that roughly 102 tons of cocaine were seized at external European borders in 2020, but given the figure does not include cocaine seized internally, the report notes “no decline in supply was evident”.
Precise seizure data is not available for 2021 either, yet it looks like another record-breaking year. In mid-February 2021, German, Belgian and Dutch authorities made coordinated seizures in the seaports of Antwerp and Hamburg totalling 23 metric tons of cocaine – the continent’s largest haul ever. Then, in the following two months, Belgian authorities alone seized another 20 tons.
Cocaine purity has also increased, with half of the surveyed countries reporting an average purity between 53 and 68 percent. The number of people entering treatment for the first time has risen, and cocaine continues to become more common in eastern European cities.
Growth of Crack Cocaine Markets
New developments in consumption point to the growing availability of crack cocaine in certain European countries, as well as reports of smaller doses of crack being sold. Turning cocaine into crack is a traditional way of rendering it more affordable.
Crack production is relatively simple, involving the removal of the hydrochloride “base” from powder cocaine to make it smokable, normally by heating it in water and baking soda. As such, the growth in European crack demand is unlikely to alter trafficking methods very much.
However, given the presence of Colombian workers in European cocaine extraction laboratories in recent years, it is possible increased crack demand will generate more work for chemists.
Established Supply of Mexican Methamphetamine
While demand for methamphetamine has historically been limited in Europe, mostly confined to Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the report warns that increased foreign imports, along with growing domestic production, may signal growing consumption.
The increase is due to “collaborations between European and Mexican criminal groups," which are directly trafficking methamphetamine produced in Mexico, according to the report.
In 2019, the largest volumes of seized methamphetamine from Mexico were reported in Spain (1.6 metric tons), Poland (0.5 tons) and the Netherlands (0.5 tons). Spain saw its largest methamphetamine seizure in March 2020, again from Mexico. Slovakia, a major methamphetamine-producer in its own right, pulled in a record haul in July 2020, seizing 1.6 tons of methamphetamine from Mexico.
Meanwhile, in 2019, Austria and Germany reported that methamphetamine is being trafficked by postal packages (air freight) from Mexico to Europe, and Belgium reported that it had identified Mexico as a key source country for methamphetamine seized since 2017.
European MDMA Production Thriving
Echoing last year’s report, the 2021 version notes how the production of MDMA, the illegal drug known popularly as ecstasy or molly, is also thriving, with both the number of MDMA laboratories dismantled by law enforcement and the average purity of seized “ecstasy” pills continuing to rise.
This has implications for Latin America, which receives hundreds of thousands of these pills annually. The pills are trafficked from Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to wealthier countries, such as Argentina and Chile, though seizures have recently been seen in poorer nations like Bolivia and Venezuela.