By European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction
Developments in European countries are both influenced by and impact on global drug trends. For some synthetic stimulant drugs like MDMA, Europe is a major producer, exporting products and expertise to other parts of the world. For cannabis, European production has to some extent displaced importation and appears to have impacted on the business models of external producers. One consequence of this can be seen in the increased potency of the cannabis resin now being trafficked into Europe. For cocaine and heroin, the two other major plant-based illicit drugs, production remains centred in Latin American and Asian countries, respectively. Global data suggests that for both substances production has been increasing. How this impacts on Europe merits scrutiny. In the case of heroin, despite the relatively high purity of the drug at street level, overall use remains stable with rates of initiation into use appearing to be low. For cocaine, in contrast, several indicators are now trending upwards. This is discussed in more detail below. For both substances however, seizure data suggest some recent changes in the production chain that may have important future implications. Secondary processing and extraction of cocaine from ‘carrier materials’ continues to be observed in Europe, as does the importation of large volumes of the drug concealed in shipping containers. For heroin, a new development is that laboratories converting morphine to heroin have been detected and dismantled in several European countries. The driver of this is likely to be the greater availability and considerably lower cost in Europe of acetic anhydride, a key precursor chemical for heroin production, at a time when opium poppy harvests are increasing. This development illustrates not only the globally joined-up nature of modern drug production networks, but also the need to frame drug control responses, such as precursor controls, within a global perspective.