EU faces new frontiers on drug trafficking

by Financial Times

Elaborate methods of smuggling cocaine and a record number of new unregulated drugs are challenging drug control policies in Europe, where about 1,000 cocaine-related deaths are reported a year, according to the European Union’s drug agency

Traffickers are increasingly using exports such as clothes, plastics and fertilisers to smuggle cocaine base which is then extracted in clandestine laboratories, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said on Wednesday.
A number of these “secondary extraction” labs have been detected in Spain – 25 in 2008 – together with the UK, Denmark, Ireland and Italy, the countries where cocaine use is most prevalent.
In the UK, the number of death certificates citing cocaine doubled from 161 in 2003 to 325 in 2008, according to Lisbon-based EMCDDA, which collects and analyses information for European policymakers.
“Too many Europeans still regard cocaine use as a relatively harmless accompaniment to a successful lifestyle,” said Wolfgang Götz, the agency’s director. “We must convey that the use of this drug can also result in fatalities, even when intake is occasional and doses are low.”
A record number of new unregulated drugs known as “legal highs” were also testing drug control policies, the agency said in its annual report.
Twenty-four new psychoactive substances were officially reported for the first time, double the number in 2008. A further 31 new substances have been reported in 2010.
Online marketing of these synthetic compounds presented a growing problem for policymakers, the agency said. This included the rise of products such as “Spice”, smoked herbal highs containing synthetic psychoactive substances whose levels are changed in response to control measures.
In early 2010, 170 online retailers were identified as selling legal highs and hallucinogenic mushrooms, the EMCDDA said.
New trends were also evident in cannabis production, with organised criminals increasingly focusing on large-scale cultivation close to intended markets in Europe as an alternative to smuggling the drug across borders.
“The public often perceives domestic cannabis production as a pot plant on a windowsill or a few plants in a greenhouse,” said Mr Götz. “But the reality is very different.” Extensive cultivation by drug gangs was leading to increased violence and criminality in urban communities.
Cannabis remained the most widely used drug in Europe, with about 75.5m, or 22.5 per cent, of European adults estimated to have used the drug at least once in their life and 23m during the previous year. This was followed by cocaine, used by an estimated 14m, or 4.1 per cent, of Europeans in their lifetime, 4m in the previous year.
Opioid use, mostly heroin, was not diminishing in Europe and accounted for about 85 per cent of drug-related deaths, which have been increasingly steadily in most European countries, the agency said.
Drug-induced deaths in the EU and Norway were estimated at 7,371 in 2008, compared with 7,021 in 2007.
Heroin use in Russia and Ukraine was two to four times higher than the EU average and about 40 per cent of the 2m hard drug users in the two countries were estimated to be HIV positive.
“This is not just a public health disaster for the countries concerned, it also represents a sizeable threat for the European Union,” said Joao Goulão, chairman of the EMCDDA.