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Drug markets in Europe estimated to be worth $30 billion. A thriving market that empowers organized crime, posing a threat to society as a whole

EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction), Europol, released the latest findings on the production and use of illegal substances. Cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy count millions of pathological addicts. A rapidly growing market that is capitalising on new digital technologies. Related damages include an annual carnage of “consumers”, enriched crime syndicates, trafficking and corruption. Possible policy responses, law enforcement and prevention measures

The drug market is “an absolute evil” that harms public health, infects society and the legal economy, poses a threat to public institutions, enriches organized crime, foments violence and human trafficking. The EMCCD – European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction – 2019 Drug Report drawn up in conjunction with Europol, published Tuesday November 26, contains dramatic figures on the drugs market, analysing its steady growth.

A lucrative “supply chain.” “Europeans are spending at least EUR 30 billion on drugs each year”, states the Report. According to experts, “the drug market is a major source of income for organised crime groups in the European Union. Around two-fifths of this total (39%) is spent on cannabis, 31% on cocaine, 25% on heroin and 5% on amphetamines and MDMA” (ecstasy). The Report is the result of the joint efforts of the two EU Agencies. It examines trends along the “drug supply chain”, analyzing production, trafficking, distribution and sales. It describes “wide-ranging impacts” on both health and security proposing solutions aimed at “effective drug control policies.”

A growing trend. Cannabis tops drug consumption in the European market, estimated to be worth at least EUR 11.6 billion, with some 25 million consumers in the 15-64 age bracket. “Cocaine is the second most commonly consumed illicit drug in the EU, with a market retail value estimated at EUR 9.1 billion.” Around 4 million Europeans are regular drug users “concentrated in the south and west of Europe but the market appears to be spreading.” Heroin and other opioids accounts for the third most commonly used drugs: with some 1.3 million “problem opioid users” (according to the Report’s definition), with an estimated value of EUR 7.4 billion per year. “The Balkan route remains the key corridor for heroin into the EU” the Document points out. Experts from the European Observatory, based in Lisbon, documented the spread, consumption and economic worth of amphetamines, ecstasy, new psychoactive substances.

Violence, corruption. The Report stresses the rise in violence and corruption directly or indirectly linked to drugs. Europe “is not only a destination market but also a drug production region.” These activities foster the “business” of organised and cross-border crime syndicates, strengthening criminal gangs, escalating murders, drug dealing and related social and health damage,

posing a threat to young generations (drug dealing in schools),

trafficking, with links to terrorism and money laundering. According to the 2019 Report, “globalisation, technology and innovation and criminal tools are three forces driving and facilitating drug market developments.” The conclusions are straightforward: “Digitisation and crypto-markets feed into criminal activities that fuel and exploit drug addiction.” According to the Report jointly drawn up by EMCDDA and Europol, overall drug availability within Europe remains “very high” and “consumers have access to a wide variety of high-purity and high-potency products” at steady, or falling, prices. An otherwise scarcely known collateral damage caused by the drug market is the environmental impact of drug production, “including deforestation and the dumping of chemical waste.”

A major threat. “Organised crime groups are quick to seize new opportunities for financial gain and are increasingly exploiting technological and logistical innovations to expand their activities across international borders. At the same time today’s European users can easily gain access to illicit drugs, via social media or the Internet.” Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, said whilst presenting the Report findings: “It shows, once again, that drug markets represent a major health and security threat. We will continue working closely with international partners and Member States and step up actions to fight this phenomenon at all levels: for our youths, our citizens, our society.”

Enforcement actions. The Director of EMCDDA Alexis Goosdeel, said: “‘This report is a clear wake-up call for policymakers to address the rapidly growing drug market.” A mounting concern is “the rise in drug-related violence and corruption within the EU.” Catherine De Bolle, Europol Director, added: “Europol sees a clear increase in trafficking activity”, hence Europol “is targeting in particular top-level organised crime groups which are making a lot of money for themselves on the back of their many victims.” The areas of intervention outlined in the text are manifold and range from contrasting business models to reducing vulnerabilities at external borders, coupled by extensive awareness-raising and prevention efforts. The two EU agencies stress that “taking a future-oriented approach will boost preparedness to respond to potential future challenges, such as virtual currencies, drone technology, automation in supply chain logistics and artificial intelligence.”

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