“Drugs are back” in Europe: Somewhat hampered by the health crisis linked to Covid-19 in 2020, their consumption and supply will be back to pre-pandemic highs by 2021, a report published Tuesday also warns about the growing emergence of new synthetic drugs.
Reference indicator used by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the analysis of waste water from 75 cities in 25 countries (23 from the European Union, Turkey and Norway) thus reveals an “overall increase in the number of detections” of cannabis , cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines.
Ecstasy (and its active ingredient, MDMA) is the only drug “whose residues have declined in most of the cities studied,” the report adds.
Desired explanation: Many countries had closed nightclubs, the favorite places of consumption of ecstasy and MDMA, by spring 2021 when this extensive survey was conducted.
However, these two drugs are much less widespread than cannabis: 2.6 million adults reported using it last year, compared to 22 million (3.5 million for cocaine and two million for amphetamines and methamphetamines).
The supply of drugs “remains high across the EU” and even exceeds the “prepandemic level” for cocaine.
A record volume of 213 tons of white powder was seized in the EU in 2020, the year of the most recent data available, although it was marked by travel restrictions and closures of celebratory places due to Covid. In 2019, 202 tons were seized.
“This indicator and others indicate that there is currently no evidence that the upward trend in the availability of this drug observed in recent years has changed,” the Observatory said.
– The “3-MMC” threat –
In general, “classical medicines have never been so accessible and new high-dose drugs continue to appear,” director Alexis Goosdeel complained during an online press conference.
“Almost anything that has psychoactive potential today is at risk of appearing on the market,” he added, “with a real risk to public health.”
In 2021, 52 new psychoactive substances (NPS) were reported for the first time, “one per week compared to two 25 years ago”, according to Goosdeel.
Among these NSPs are 15 new synthetic cannabinoids: these lab-produced molecules, sometimes very high-dose and toxic, mimic the floating effect of THC (the psychotropic substance of cannabis) and may be present in e-liquids (for cigarette electronics) or on grass sprayed, sometimes without the consumer’s knowledge.
The EMCDDA 2021 report was already alarmed by their growth. This year’s report points to synthetic cathinones as a new threat, whose effects roughly combine those of cocaine, MDMA/ecstasy and amphetamines.
Six new synthetic cathinones were detected. The two most common are “3-MMC” and “3-CMC”, usually snorted in powder and ingested.
The European Commission proposed their control in mid-March and the Netherlands noted that the number of suspected poisonings with 3-MMC has risen from 10 in 2018 to 64 in 2020.
– Mexican cartels in Europe –
The EMCDDA and its director are also concerned that Europe is becoming “a major producer of drugs, synthetic drugs in particular”, both for the local market and for export.
In 2020, more than 350 illegal labs were dismantled, “including some large-scale cocaine, methamphetamine and cathinone production sites”.
Twenty-three cocaine processing labs have been discovered, an increasing number “indicating that traffickers are using more innovative methods to supply the European market.”
Traditionally specializing in the white powder trade, Mexican cartels are said to be increasingly involved in the old continent’s production of synthetic drugs, particularly methamphetamine, which is currently widely ubiquitous in North America.
But, still according to the report, “this development poses the risk of greater availability and a possible increase in consumption” in Europe.