Cocaine seizures are at “record levels” across Europe, with trafficking via commercial shipping across the Atlantic posing a “major challenge”, the EU drugs agency says.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Emcdda) said the continuing rise in supply is being accompanied by an increase in purity levels, which now stand at their highest level in 10 years.
Publishing their European Drug Report 2019, the EU drugs agency said there were 104,000 seizures of cocaine in the EU in 2017, compared to 98,000 seizures in 2016.
In terms of quantities, there were 140 tonnes seized in 2017, around double that seized in 2016 (71 tonnes).
The trend across Europe is reflected in Ireland, with Irish figures showing a surge in the number of cocaine seizures in recent years.
Data from the Health Research Board, which is provided to the Emcdda, shows that while the number of cocaine seizures fell dramatically between 2007 and 2015, from 1,749 seizures to 364 seizures, they jumped by 63% in 2016 and by a further 33% in 2017.
The EU drugs agency said: “Europe is seeing signs of an increase in cocaine availability, with seizures of the drug at record levels. Cocaine enters Europe through numerous routes and means, but the growth in large-volume trafficking, using maritime shipping containers, stands out as a major challenge.”
It said the use of social media, darknet marketplaces and encryption techniques are playing an increasing role in enabling smaller groups and individuals to engage in drug dealing.
It said there are signs in some countries of “call centres” operating, with couriers providing fast and flexible delivery.
“Such methods – reflecting a potential 'uberisation' of the cocaine trade – are indicative of a competitive market in which sellers compete by offering additional services beyond the product itself,” said the report.
It said the rise in cocaine use is reflected in a rise in treatment for the drug, and its more addictive and destructive derivative - crack cocaine.
The report said there was a 35% increase between 2014 and 2017 in the number of new entrants for treatment with cocaine as the main problem drug.
Situation in Ireland
Irish figures show a steady rise in cocaine treatment, increasing from a low of 297 cases in 2012 to 748 in 2017.
Cocaine-related deaths increased from 21 in 2010 to 45 in 2015, dropping slightly to 41 in 2016.
Crack cocaine accounted for 11.5% of cases entering treatment for cocaine use in 2017, up from 9% in 2010.
The report said that Ireland is one of six EU countries that had a reported last year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of 2.5% or more.
But Irish figures, which have been cited over recent years, are from 2014/15 and the results of the latest survey, which is currently being conducted, won't be available until 2020.
Commenting on the report, the Minister of State with responsibility for the National Drugs Strategy, Catherine Byrne, said: “The drug problem across Europe and here at home is of great concern, and the growing problem of cocaine use is particular worrying. I
n response, the HSE has developed a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers associated with cocaine and crack cocaine use. I have also recently allocated funding for the development of strategic health initiatives by the HSE and Drug and Alcohol Task Forces around the country, and it is anticipated they will include projects to tackle cocaine use.”
The report also highlights the issue of drug poisonings. Any death from drug use is a tragedy and we must continue to promote harm reduction and prevent overdose.
"Across Europe, Supervised Injecting Facilities have been instrumental in reducing drug-related harm and I remain firmly committed to the establishment of a pilot facility in Dublin city. I also welcome the increase in the provision of Naloxone and training in its delivery as another public health measure which can greatly reduce overdose deaths in Ireland.’
Emcdda director Alexis Goosdeel said: “The challenges we face in the drug area continue to grow. Not only are there signs of increased availability of established plant-based drugs like cocaine, but we are also witnessing an evolving market where synthetic drugs and drug production within Europe are growing in importance.
"This can be seen in problems associated with the use of highly potent synthetic opioids, in new production techniques for MDMA and amphetamines, and in recent developments in the processing of morphine into heroin inside Europe’s borders.”