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Call centres and home-delivered cocaine: the new frontiers of drugs in Europe

The European Drug Agency released its annual Report on illicit  substances. Thriving markets, rising consumption, severe public health impacts. Innovative production and marketing methods. There is also talk of "Uberisation". Avramopoulos: "a threat to the lives of millions of citizens".

Home delivery perhaps with the support of a call centre is the new frontier of illicit drugs. The drug market is particularly “creative”, innovative, constantly seeking new “customers” (or victims, depending on viewpoint), and does not stop at anything. It uses digital platforms, mobilises capital, invests in new forms of production and trade. All this is complemented by traditional illegal “methods”, from smuggling to violence. For this reason, when it comes to contrast, it requires an equal capacity of response. “The 2019 European Drug Report – Trends and developments”, published on 6 June by the European Drugs Agency in Lisbon. provides a snapshot of this phenomenon.

Staggering figures. “Drugs remain a constantly evolving, multi-faceted threat to our societies, affecting the life of millions of citizens around the world.” It’s a “complex phenomenon” and therefore “we need a more coordinated approach that tackles both supply and demand.” Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Home Affaris, illustrated and commented the Report released by the EU Drug Agency headquartered in Lisbon (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Emcdda). The Commissioner declared: “Our efforts are bearing fruit with our new rules to ban psychoactive substances and our enhanced cooperation with international partners. But we also need to look at the role of digitalisation in the drug market.” From the its opening pages the Report highlights the continuing “high availability”, “of cocaine, with seizures of the drug at record levels.”

Data shows that in EU 28, Norway and Turkey over 1 million seizures of illicit drugs are reported annually.

According to the Agency, “Around 96 million adults in the EU (15–64 years) have tried an illicit drug in their lifetime.” An estimated “1.2 million people receive treatment each year for illicit drug use.” In 2018, “55 new psychoactive substances (NPS) were detected in the EU for the first time, bringing the total number monitored by the agency to 730.”

A growing market. The Report on drugs in Europe provides a detailed analysis – of some 100 pages – on the production, trade, consumption and impact on public health of cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy, amphetamines, opiates in the EU countries plus Turkey and Norway.

A worrying picture emerges, regarding which Alexis Goosdeel (in the photo with Commissioner Avramopoulos), Director of the Agency, said: “‘The challenges we face in the drugs area continue to grow. Not only are there signs of increased availability of established plant-based drugs like cocaine, but we are also witnessing an evolving market where synthetic drugs and drug production within Europe are growing in importance.” This situation “can be seen in problems associated with the use of highly potent synthetic opioids, in new production techniques for MDMA and amphetamines, and in recent developments in the processing of morphine into heroin inside Europe’s borders.”

Numerous trafficking routes. In the chapter on cocaine, it is reported that both the number of seizures and the quantities of cocaine seized are on the rise. Over 104 000 cocaine seizures were reported in the EU in just one year, amounting to 140.4 tonnes seized by law enforcement officials.

“Cocaine enters Europe through numerous routes and means – said the EMCDDA experts – but the growth in large-volume trafficking, using maritime shipping containers, stands out as a major challenge.”

 “There is evidence that the use of social media, darknet marketplaces and encryption techniques are playing an increasing role in enabling smaller groups and individuals to engage in drug dealing.” The Report highlights the spread of “innovative distribution methods”: “One example is the existence of cocaine ‘call centres’, with couriers providing fast and flexible delivery.” The document thus   (using a somewhat inappropriate term … ) speaks of a “uberization” of the cocaine trade, “indicative of a competitive market in which sellers compete by offering additional services beyond the product itself.”

Increasing death rates … The Lisbon agency survey provides a profusion of data and examples. Thus it gives evidence that cocaine the “commonly” consumed by 2.6 million people, starting with 15 year-olds. As regards heroin – just to mention an aspect – seizures amount to over 5 tonnes a year, with an additional 22 tonnes seized by Turkey. There are also new synthetic opioids, trafficked from the United States and Canada, currently representing only a small share of the drug market in Europe but whose use is “linked to poisonings and deaths” (indeed, people continue being killed by drugs!)

Cannabis, “the most widely used illicit drug in Europe”: is commonly used by some 17.5 million European citizens.

It is also be worth noting that Europe is not only a consumer market, but also an area of drug production, with a particular ‘vocation’ for synthetic drugs (the report mentions the Netherlands in particular).  Laura D’Arrigo, Chair of the EMCDDA Management Board, said in the concluding remarks: “Over this past period, Europe has faced some dramatic changes in the drug phenomenon, including the appearance of scores of non-controlled substances” or unknown to date; “the understanding of current drug problems allows us to prepare for future challenges in this fast-changing and complex area.”

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