Home > EU drug markets report 2016.

Guiney, Ciara (2016) EU drug markets report 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 58, Summer 2016, pp. 19-20.

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On 5 April 2016 the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol published their second joint study of European drug markets.1  This in-depth strategic examination builds on the 2013 report, which was the first attempt to bring together intelligence on the functionality and structure of European drug markets in the wider illicit drugs setting.2 The overall aim of both reports has been to inform policy and responses aimed at drug supply reduction. 


The recent report focuses on three areas. Firstly, it examines the consequences of the illicit drug market and what drives its development.  Secondly, it examines the main drug markets, such as cannabis, heroin and other opioids, cocaine, methamphetamine and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), and new psychoactive substances (NPS).  Each chapter recommends actions which highlight areas that should continue or need to be addressed.  Finally, the report examines policies and responses aimed at reducing the supply of illicit drugs. 


Consequences of the illicit drug market

The illicit drug market has a broad impact, not just on individuals who use drugs but also on society as a whole. A number of impacts are identified in the report.


Legal economy

A challenge for organised crime groups (OCGs) is moving money that has been generated via illicit drug dealing into circulation. This has an impact on the legal economy as legitimate businesses are necessary to launder the cash, and they are at risk of being linked with ‘trade-based money laundering schemes’.


Wider criminal activity

OCGs have been shown to be increasingly adaptable and flexible in their operational activities and interactions, and hence the opportunities to act illegally are immense. The ability of law enforcement agencies to fill the knowledge gaps about these interactions is viewed as essential. The report highlights three such knowledge gaps that represent ‘intelligence-gathering opportunities’:


  • drug supply carried out alongside other activities, for example firearms or migrant smuggling;
  • drug supply that funds other crimes, for example terrorism or exploitation of people; and
  • other crimes committed when dealing drugs, for example forcing trafficked individuals to take part in producing and selling drugs. 


Links exist between OCGs engaged in drug trafficking and terrorist groups. These interactions are functional in that terrorists appear to avail of the drug markets as a way of funding other activities.  From a European perspective, this link is viewed as a ‘threat’ as it has resulted in renewed interest in producing opium and other drugs in Afghanistan and its neighbours, Africa and the Middle East.  Volatility and nearness to Syria have led to the development of a ‘geographical hotspot of multiple and potentially interconnected threats’ such as drug and other organised crime and human relocation.


The risk factors associated with drug crime and with radicalisation are considered to overlap, for example disadvantaged individuals are at greater risk of being imprisoned for drug offences, and prison is a setting known to contribute to radicalisation. The report points out that because terrorism and drugs are viewed as separate entities, knowledge gaps are extensive and links between the two areas are often missed. 


Government institutions and corruption

In the majority of EU states, a large proportion of drug-related public expenditure is used to try to reduce drug supply. Nonetheless, there is often pressure to reassign funds to address other issues considered more urgent.  In addition, the power of governments can be damaged by corruption and coercion, for example in the judiciary or within law enforcement agencies.


Impacts on wider society and global stabilisation efforts

Society is affected by the operation of drug markets in a variety of ways, from increased acquisitive crime owing to addiction, to homicide, or feeling unsafe living in an area. In addition, in areas where drugs are produced, the environment may be directly affected by chemicals used during production, deforestation or erosion, and indirectly, depending on the location, by migration, destabilisation and climate change.


Main drug markets

The report examines the drug markets related to the main drug types and provides insights into their development from production through to supply. Key features of these markets include their global spread, the involvement of OCGs, the trafficking routes and the retail markets.  Based on the most recent available figures up to 2015, the most prominent drug in Europe’s illicit drug retail markets is cannabis, followed by heroin and then cocaine.


New psychoactive substances (NPS)

Although NPS are a relatively new addition to the EU drug market, their importance and growth cannot be overestimated. In 2015, 100 new substances were identified by the EMCDDA and approximately 650 were being monitored.  As a result of the ‘rapidly changing nature’ of these substances, it is difficult to estimate NPS consumption.  The report points out that the same brand name may be used for completely different substances, resulting in individuals not being aware of what they are taking.  


The 2014 Eurobarometer Survey, which examined the use of NPS among 15–24-year-olds across EU member states,3 indicated that overall eight per cent of respondents reported using NPS, of whom one per cent reported using in the last 30 days, three per cent in the previous 12 months, and four per cent more than a year ago. Broken down by country, the highest level of NPS consumption was reported by Irish young people (22%).  This figure illustrates that NPS consumption in Ireland has increased by six per cent since the 2011 Eurobarometer Survey (16%).4  

Policies and responses

The final chapter of the report examines policies and strategies aimed at reducing drug supply. The main strategic action highlighted is the EU drugs strategy (2013–20) and action plan (2013–16).  The framework in this strategy and action plan are considered to mirror the challenges identified in the report.  The report outlines the roles played by different EU institutions and agencies in the development and application of the EU’s drugs policy.


The report highlights three areas of the drug market that are being targeted: 

  • organisations involved at national and international level in the production and supply of drugs, for example OCGs which are multifaceted, particularly in the areas of organisational structure, technical knowledge, connections with other organisations and areas of specialism;
  • factors that enable drug activities, for example money, help from other professionals, and advances in globalisation and technology; and
  • social factors that result in people getting involved in producing and selling drugs, for example human trafficking, exploitation as a result of poverty, and immigration.  

1 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addition, Europol (2016) EU drug markets report: in-depth analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.  https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25357/

2 European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addition, Europol (2013) EU drug markets report: a strategic analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.  www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19227/

3 TNS Political and Social (2014) Flash Eurobarometer 401. Young People and drugs. Luxembourg: European Commission. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/22196/

4 The Gallup Organization (2011) Youth attitudes on drugs. Flash Eurobarometer 330 Analytical report.   Luxembourg: European Commission. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/15497/

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