European countries have become so saturated with cocaine that the region has now become a hub for exporting the drug to markets such as Australia, Turkey and Russia, according to new data.
Record levels of production of the drug in South America and new smuggling routes opening up into the continent means that Europe is now a transit area for the export of cocaine.
The phenomenon is outlined in a new Europol analysis of the drug market, and comes after Spain seized a submarine carrying cocaine from Colombia in a European first this week. New trafficking routes are also being developed through war-torn west African states.
Les Fiander, one of the authors of the 2019 Drugs Market Report, said there were a number of reasons why South American production has soared in recent years.
“Organised crime groups have been able to expand their production, because authorities in source countries are not able to use anymore pesticides to fight it."
He added that the ongoing peace process in Colombia is another factor, as the vacuum left by the Farc has been rapidly filled by coca farmers looking to make quick money.
According to the report, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain remain main entry points and distribution hubs for cocaine in the EU. Smuggling operations are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect.
The European Union’s law enforcement agency’s 2019 Drugs Market Report, shows that the value of the drugs trade in Europe is roughly €30 billion. Cannabis, accounting for 39% of the total market, is the most consumed illicit drug followed by cocaine at 31%. It is estimated that four million European citizens used cocaine this year.
Last week’s submarine was carrying three tonnes of cocaine valued at €100 million when it was detained off the north-west coast of Spain. The submarine had travelled from South America and it is believed the cocaine was destined for the British market.
West and North Africa appears to be emerging as a more significant transit point for both air and maritime shipments of cocaine destined for the European and possibly other markets.
The report found that heroin production, mainly in Afghanistan, is also on the rise and consequently there is likely to be a much greater availability of the drug in Europe over the coming years.
The use of heroin and other opioids still accounts for the largest share of drug-related harms. The retail value of the heroin market in 2017 was estimated to be at least €7.4 billion.
The report also highlighted how the illicit drug industry in Europe is increasingly contaminating river water, drinking water and wastewater.
The adverse effects of leaking acidic chemicals are now more widespread and no longer an issue limited to local governments, the report found.
Compounding the problem is the array of chemical substances that can be used to produce synthetic drugs, meaning that the amount abandoned and dumped often varies greatly.