Home > Drug supply reduction: an overview of EU policies and measures.

Guiney, Ciara (2017) Drug supply reduction: an overview of EU policies and measures. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 62, Summer 2017, pp. 23-24.

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In January 2017, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published Drug supply reduction: an overview of EU policies and measures.1 This is an introductory guide to the European Union’s (EU) approach to drug supply reduction. A number of different strategies were presented.


Policy areas

The main policy document that addresses drug supply reduction is the EU drugs strategy 2015‒2020 and its action plan 2013‒2016.2,3 The main objective of the strategy is to reduce the availability of illicit drugs by disrupting illicit drugs trafficking and dismantling organised crime groups (OCGs) involved. An efficient criminal justice system is viewed as essential along with intelligence-led law enforcement and sharing of intelligence among agencies. From an EU perspective, the main focus is placed on organised, large-scale and cross-border drug-related crime (p. 4). Drug supply reduction is also addressed in policies in other areas, for example, security, policy cycle (organised and serious international crime), maritime security, and regional programmes.


EU institutional system

EU structures involved in the design and implementation of strategies that aim to address drug supply include institutions, bodies and EU agencies (see Figure 1). Primarily, policy-making and legislative processes are carried out by the EU institutions, who along with council committees, working groups, EMPACT (European Multidisciplinary Platform against Criminal Threats) and EU agencies support, coordinate and implement the policies designed.



Disrupting European drug markets

How drug trafficking routes are operated can raise security problems in the EU. The main responses identified in the paper to overcome the challenges that arise included:

  • Intelligence-led policing along with cooperation between the EU and its member states is considered essential to address organised crime in the EU. Although the main organisation that aims to reduce drug supply and target OCGs is Europol, collaborative work is carried out with Interpol and law enforcement agencies worldwide. To determine the level of threat, assessments are carried out using Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA), which forms part of the EMPACT policy cycle.
  • Legislation that aims to deter drug trafficking and apprehend OCGs has been put in place at an EU level and enables collaboration between member states to target cross-border criminal activities (see EMCDDA paper for a list of legislation implemented, Table 2, p. 8).1
  • Chemicals (e.g. acetic anhydride) that are used in the manufacture of other products, such as perfumes and cosmetics, can also be used in heroin production. To ensure that chemicals are not used as drug precursors, regulations have been put in place at United Nation and EU levels to control and monitor their use.
  • A key priority identified in the European Agenda on Security (2015‒2020)5 and the EU action plan on drugs (2013‒2016)3 is to prevent OCGs from gaining access to drug-related profits. Current legislation exists to enhance judicial cooperation in cross-border money laundering cases and for asset confiscation and recovery and money laundering. The European Commission works with various organisations (e.g. International Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Expert Group on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) to build and instigate responses to money laundering.
  • As part of the ongoing EU commitment to drug supply reduction, four types of programmes are funded: framework programmes; programmes for EU candidate and potential candidate countries; geographic or regional programmes; and programmes that complement geographic ones.
  • More often than not the main way to ship illicit drugs is by sea. This poses a serious challenge because the majority (70%) of the EU’s external borders are maritime. Maritime interdiction in the EU is centred on information-sharing networks, for example, Common Information Sharing Environment for Maritime Surveillance in Europe (Maritime CISE). Other systems that aim to address challenges include Consistently Optimised REsilient (CORE) ecosystem, European Borders Surveillance System (EUROSUR) and Maritime Analysis Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N). 

Targeting international drug trafficking

OCGs take advantage of existing international trade routes and national infrastructures to move illicit drugs via land, sea or air. With the aim of overcoming these challenges, the EU works with member states and other stakeholders on numerous programmes that target international drug trafficking, for example, the Container Control Programme, Cocaine Route and Heroin Route Programmes, Border Management, Paris Pact Initiative, Cooperation Programme on Drug Policies (COPOLAD) and the Global SMART (Synthetics Monitoring: Analyses, Reporting and Trends) Programme, by providing financial assistance via the European Commission for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).



The EU response to drug production and trafficking is ongoing and avails of a multifaceted interagency approach within and beyond Europe. The response is continuously evolving, as criminals alter methods used in drug production and trafficking in order to capitalise financially and prevent apprehension by law enforcement agencies. This EMCDDA paper provides a clear and concise overview from a global context of how the EU is responding to the unending challenges presented by the illicit drug market and it would be a particularly useful resource for those already working in this area and for individuals new to it. 

  1. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2017) Drug supply reduction: an overview of EU policies and measures. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/26686/
  2. Council of the European Union (2012) The EU drugs strategy 2013–2020. Brussels: Council of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19034/
  3. Council of the European Union (2013) EU action plan on drugs (20132016). Brussels: Council of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/20004/
  4. EMCDDA and Europol (2016) EU drug markets report: in-depth analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. Available online at http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/start/2016/drug-markets#pane1/1
  5. European Commission (2015) Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions — the European Agenda on Security, COM (2015) 185 final. Strasbourg: European Commission. Available online at https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/sites/homeaffairs/files/e-library/documents/basic-documents/docs/eu_agenda_on_security_en.pdf  
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention, Policy
Issue Title
Issue 62, Summer 2017
August 2017
Page Range
pp. 23-24
Health Research Board
Issue 62, Summer 2017

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