Recent changes in Europe’s cocaine market: results from an EMCDDA trendspotter study
In recent years, signals from both formal and informal monitoring sources based in a number of European countries have been indicating increased cocaine availability.
The aim of the study was to increase understanding of recent changes in the cocaine market in Europe. More specifically, it set out to explore levels of and patterns in powder cocaine and crack cocaine use; the market, including production, supply and product availability; and drug-related harms and deaths.
To investigate the changes in the supply and demand of cocaine in Europe, a targeted ‘trendspotter’ study was initiated by the EMCDDA and carried out between March and June 2018. The trendspotter study methodology incorporates a range of investigative approaches and data collection from multiple sources. This study included two web surveys among European experts on the topic; a review of the international literature and monitoring data; an expert meeting with 14 expert presentations and findings from three facilitated working groups. The analysis was based on triangulation of these information sources.
The European drug market appears to be experiencing a surge in the availability of high-purity cocaine at stable prices. The main drivers behind this surge in high purity cocaine supply include a sharp increase in coca production in source countries since 2014 and a greater competition and innovation on the supply side. Thus, an increasing number of European and non-European organised crime groups are now directly involved in the cocaine trade between source countries and national markets in the various Member States and new trafficking routes into Europe are emerging. Additionally, novel technologies are playing an important role in enabling smaller groups and individual ‘entrepreneurs’ to openly engage, with a perception of less risk, in cocaine dealing. Diffusion to new and emerging markets is also observed with signs that cocaine is expanding into new markets in eastern Europe and within national territories, where OCGs are expanding their operations from major cities to smaller, regional cities.
From a consumer perspective, targeted surveys and data collection in nightlife settings, drug consumption rooms and wastewater studies appear to point to a rise in cocaine use in recent years. Various harms have been linked to recent increases in the availability and use of cocaine. At a societal level, some countries report violence among small OCGs competing for local cocaine markets. At consumer level, data from hospital emergency units reveal that it is primarily a young population of cocaine users which appears in emergency rooms at weekends. The number of deaths involving cocaine, mostly in association with alcohol and opioids, has increased in several Member States in recent years.
Increased production, greater competition between OCGs and innovation in supply methods have resulted in a recent surge of high purity cocaine at stable prices in Europe. These new developements in the European cocaine market have serious health and social consequences for European citizens with a wide range of implications for law enforcement, health and social responses, and monitoring.