The European Drug Report details the latest trends across the main drugs.
The quantity of heroin seized in the EU increased by more than a tonne in 2017 to 5.4 tonnes. In addition, a further 17.4 tonnes was seized in Turkey — some of which would have been destined for the EU market.
The report, published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said there were record levels of opium production in Afghanistan.
The report said a “worrying development” is the 81 tonnes of the heroin precursor chemical acetic anhydride seized in the EU in 2017, with a further 242 tonnes of it seized in stopped shipments.
It said heroin purity remains high and retail price relatively low.
The EU report also flagged “growing concerns” at the threat posed by powerful synthetic opiates, such as fentanyl, and pointed out that the current “opioid epidemic” in the US and Canada is largely driven by synthetic opiates.
Figures from the Health Research Board show there were 765 heroin seizures in Ireland in 2017, 59% lower than 2014. Garda figures show that 18kg of heroin were seized in 2017, compared to 38kg in 2016, 39kg in 2015 and 61.7kg in 2014.
HRB figures show that opiates (mainly heroin) were the main problem drug reported by new entrants to treatment between 2007 and 2010, but were overtaken by cannabis in 2011.
Methadone was involved in 103 deaths in 2016 and 89 deaths in 2015. Heroin was implicated in 72 deaths in 2016 and 83 deaths in 2015.
The report said cannabis accounted for the greatest share of new entrants to treatment in the EU, up 67% between 2006-2017. It said recent research found that herbal cannabis and resin has doubled in typical THC content over the last decade, raising concerns about potential harms.
It said there is also a range of cannabis products being traded, in the form of “edibles” (such as jellies), liquids and concentrates. It said low levels of THC are also appearing in specialist or health food shops in some EU countries.
HRB data (citing a 2014/15 survey) shows 14% of young adults used cannabis in the last year, similar to the EU average. It said cannabis is the most common main problem drug here, representing 25% of all cases entering treatment in 2017, up to 39% among new cases.
An estimated 6.6m MDMA tablets were reported seized in the EU in 2017, the highest number since 2007.
In 2017, 21 MDMA laboratories were dismantled in the EU, up from 11 in 2016, all in the Netherlands. The latest data shows that MDMA content in ecstasy tablets reached a 10-year high in 2017.
In relation to NPS, the report said 55 new substances were reported in 2018, compared to 51 in 2017. By the end of 2018, 730 NPS were being monitored, most of them either synthetic cannabinoids and cathinones.
Using 2014/15 data, HRB said 4.4% of young adults used MDMA in the last year, second only to Netherlands (7%). The average across Europe for those aged 15-34 was 1.7%. It said there was a 71% jump in the number of MDMA seizures in 2016, with figures the same in 2017.