Cocaine availability is at an “unprecedented level” in Europe with record seizures of the drug being recorded.
The ongoing surge in cocaine supply has now been compounded by a sharp increase in the amount of heroin seized – sparking warnings from the EU drugs agency at the possible health implications.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) also reports a continuing rise in the purity and potency of the main drugs – cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and cannabis.
The findings from the EMCDDA annual report comes as Ireland has recorded massive drug hauls this year, including 62kgs of cocaine and 93kgs of cannabis herb at the end of June and 35kgs of cocaine and 62kgs of cannabis herb in April.
Just last August, gardaí seized 22kgs of heroin, while Cork had its biggest ever haul of heroin in July, when 3kgs were seized.
The Emcdda European Drug Report 2020 found:
- 181 tonnes of cocaine were seized in Europe (EU member states plus Turkey and Sweden) in 2018, up from 138 tonnes in 2017, which was the previous record year;
- These bumper hauls of cocaine compare to average seizures of 50-70 tonnes over the previous eight years;
- 9.7 tonnes of heroin were seized in 2018, up from 5.2 tonnes in 2016, which the Emcdda described as a “worrying” increase;
- Ireland has the joint-third highest number of drug related deaths after Sweden and the UK (continuing a previous trend) – a death toll three times the European average.
The EMCDDA said the massive increase in cocaine seizures, along with high purity of the drug, more cocaine treatment cases in clinics, significant cocaine-related hospital emergencies and cocaine-induced deaths suggested that “cocaine availability in Europe is at an unprecedented level”.
In its Irish briefing on the report, the Health Research Board said cocaine became the second most common main problem drug reported in 2019, after previously being the third most common drug.
It said cocaine now accounted for 24% of all treatment cases, compared to just 8% in 2013.
The HRB said cocaine was implicated in 53 deaths in Ireland in 2017, an increase of 26% on 2016.
In 2019, crack cocaine accounted for 14.3% of all cases treated for cocaine as a main problem in Ireland, compared to 11.3% in 2018.
Separate Irish figures indicate that the size of cocaine hauls have grown in recent years. In 2017, the largest three seizures of cocaine were 20kgs and two 10kgs hauls. This jumped to 66kgs, 49kgs and 36kgs in 2018.
To date in 2020, there have been similar sized seizures: 62kgs, 35kgs and 22kgs.
In relation to heroin, the Emcdda said the volume of heroin seized had doubled. It added that the increasing volume of heroin seized in Turkey (the main supply route of heroin into Europe) was “worrying”, as was the manufacturing of heroin within the EU.
“This suggests more vigilance is necessary to detect any signs of increased consumer interest in a drug associated with serious health and social problems,” said the report.
Just this week, British police seized 1.2 tonnes of heroin on board a vessel bound for Antwerp, Belgium.
The report said the discovery of laboratories producing heroin from morphine in Bulgaria, Czechia, Spain and the Netherlands in recent years, together with an increase in morphine and opium seizures suggests some heroin is now manufactured in the European Union.
The report said both cannabis resin and herb now contain, on average, about twice as much THC (the active chemical) as they did just a decade ago.
It said that there was a “pressing need” for greater surveillance of this area.
In relation to ecstasy, the report noted the continued availability of high-content MDMA tablets and high-purity powders.
“Alongside increases in both the average MDMA content in tablets and the purity of powders in 2018, data shows that products containing extremely high levels of MDMA are also being detected,” it said.
“These products pose considerable health risks for people using them and raise an important issue for prevention and harm reduction messaging and interventions.” Citing previously published figures, dating back to 2014, Ireland is joint fifth in Europe for recent use (in the last year) of cocaine among the 15-34 year old age group.
Recent use of ecstasy among the same age was the second highest in Europe, while recent use of cannabis was twelfth highest and below the EU average.