Europe is seeing a “surge” in the availability of high-purity cocaine, an international drugs agency said.
Record seizures of cocaine have been made in the European countries that account for the bulk of shipments to the continent, both in 2018 and again in 2019, it said.
The International Narcotics Control Board said the production of cocaine in South America reached a peak in 2017 and 2018, driven by activity in Colombia.
The INCB — which monitors global drug-control conventions — also reminded countries that are relaxing laws on medical and/or recreational use of cannabis that they have to adhere to the treaties.
Publishing their 2019 annual report, the body said: “A recent surge in the availability of high-purity cocaine across Europe, now also including Eastern European countries that had been targeted to a lesser extent in the past, appears to have made the drug an affordable commodity and the preferred stimulant for many drug-users in the region.
“Record seizures of cocaine in several European countries in 2018 and 2019 may also indicate an increasing trend in cocaine-trafficking,” the INCB said.
Record hauls were found in Belgium (up from 45 tonnes, in 2017, to 53 tonnes, in 2018), with individual seizures of 1.5 tonnes in France and 4.5 tonnes in Germany in 2019 (the latter’s biggest consignment ever).
“In 2017, the total amount of cocaine seized in the European Union was more than 140.4 tonnes, the highest amount ever recorded (almost double the amount seized in the previous year, 70.8 tonnes),” it said.
The INCB said organised crime groups from Columbia, Morocco, Spain, and the Balkan countries dominate the transatlantic trade.
The INCB also noted that an increase in heroin-manufacturing within Europe and said seizures of opiates, other than heroin, has “markedly increased.”
The body also said that an increasing number of European countries is exploring regulatory approaches to the cultivation of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Last June, Health Minister, Simon Harris, signed legislation allowing for the Medical Cannabis Access Programme to operate on a four-year pilot basis.
All countries considering similar legislation were reminded by the INCB of the control measures of the 1961 drug convention.
It referred to a pilot in the Netherlands for the legal production and distribution of cannabis for recreational use and referred to the intention of the authorities in Luxembourg to legalise the cultivation, distribution, and possession of cannabis for recreational use.
But it reminded them that the convention only allows for medical and scientific programmes and that non-medical schemes violate the treaty.
It said Greece is the latest European country to provide a legal framework for drug-consumption rooms or supervised injecting centres, with the facilities already in operation in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland, with a legal basis also in Ireland (now subject to judicial review), and with similar initiatives underway in Finland and Iceland.
The body said the ultimate objective of these facilities must be to reduce the adverse effects of drug abuse and that they must refer clients to treatment.