Home > EU drug markets report, 2019.

Guiney, Ciara (2020) EU drug markets report, 2019. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 72, Winter 2020, pp. 18-20.

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On 26 November 2019, the EU drug markets report was published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol).1 This is the third comprehensive overview of illicit drug markets in the European Union (EU) and, while building on reports published in 2013 and 2016, it provides greater insight and a ‘richer picture’ (p. 7) of the current state of drug markets in the EU.2,3


Utilising a broad definition of the illicit drug market, including illicit drug production, trafficking, and wholesale and retail distribution to the end user, the current report focuses on three areas. First, it examines the impact of drug markets and what drives their development. Second, it provides an outline of the main drug types in illicit drug markets. Third, it describes how EU member states respond to the different components of the illicit drug markets at a European and national level via policy, legislation, and operational responses.


Impacts and drivers of drug markets

The main source of income for organised crime groups (OCGs) is believed to come from the illicit drug market. Data for 2017 have indicated that it is valued at €30 billion. Figure 1 shows a breakdown of the estimated retail value of the main drugs in the EU.


The impact of the drug market is broad, not only affecting individuals who use drugs but also affecting society as a whole. It has also been shown to be connected to wider criminal activities of OCGs and terrorism; has impacted on the legal economy; has resulted in increased violence, intimidation, corruption, human trafficking, and migrant smuggling; and has harmed the environment and weakened governance.



Figure 1: Estimated retail value of the illicit market for the main drugs in the EU

Main drug markets in the EU

The availability of high-purity, high-potency products at cheap prices continues to be widespread in the EU. The report has provided valuable insight into recent developments from production to distribution of the main drugs, such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, MDMA and methamphetamine, and new psychoactive substances. Advancements in technology and digitalisation along with awareness of gaps in drug regulations and control have been exploited by OCGs, enabling them to take advantage of a more global international market. Traditionally, OCGs have utilised several approaches to move and distribute products quickly across borders, for example, large-volume shipments and postal services. However, the sale of drugs occurs increasingly online via the surface web and darknet markets as well as via social media and apps. This approach removes the need for a traditional infrastructure, making it easier for actors to get involved in the illicit drug market. Nevertheless, it does create more difficulties for policing and public health.

Responding to drug markets

In order to respond to the challenges identified in the report, several areas need to be addressed. Table 1 identifies the key themes and implications for action. 


Table 1: Key themes and implications for action in responding to drug market challenge

Source: Adapted from EU drug markets report, 2019, pp. 14–15

Policies and actions

Due to the complexity and the adaptability of the ever-evolving illicit drug markets in the EU, policies and responses from member states have been essential in order to target existing and imminent challenges that have arisen and continue to arise. Responses have included operational activities, the implementation of strategies and legislation, and bilateral arrangements. While targeting serious OCGs involved in the drug trade is deemed a high priority, the report points out that the impact of the drug market is both direct (e.g. health and security) and indirect (e.g. violence, safety, environment). This has negative connotations across different policy areas. These links need to be examined further to order to inform and integrate stronger responses to the illicit drug market. 



The report provides a comprehensive overview of the EU illicit drug markets and their continuing development. It highlights that the impact of the illicit drug markets on individuals and society is extensive and wide-ranging. Reducing the harms linked with the drug markets must continue to be prioritised. The implementation of policy across domains at both EU and member state level is considered the most adept way to achieve this outcome. This aligns with the EU’s commitment to avail of a stable and evidence-based approach in response to existing challenges in this field.

1  European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol (2019) EU drug markets report 2019. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/31354/

2  EMCDDA and Europol (2016) EU drug markets report 2016: in-depth analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25357/

3  EMCDDA and Europol (2013) EU drug markets report: a strategic analysis. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/19227/

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