Drugs are back in the EU

BRUSSELS — Drug trafficking and use in the European Union is returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest report released Tuesday by the bloc’s drug agency.

As COVID-19 restrictions and heightened border controls have eased across the continent, the EMCDDA said drugs are available in large quantities in the region, and in some cases above pre-pandemic levels.

Hundreds of drug production labs are being dismantled and new psychoactive substances appear on the block every week. In 2021, 52 new drugs were reported for the first time, the agency said.

“To me, the take-home message that stands out in our analysis of drug trends in 2022 can be summarized as ‘Everywhere. Everything. All of them,” said director Alexis Goosdeel of the agency.

About 83.4 million people aged 15-64 in the EU, or 29% of that population, are estimated to have ever used an illicit drug, with more men than women reporting its use.

The agency said cannabis remains the most popular substance, with more than 22 million people reporting its use in 2021, ahead of cocaine, MDMA and amphetamines. About 1 million Europeans used heroin or another illicit opioid. In 2020, the most recent year for which that figure was provided, there were an estimated 5,800 overdose deaths in the EU.


The report pointed to increased use of social media applications and encrypted messaging services to access products during the pandemic, a model that is likely to persist.

The agency said last month that record amounts of cocaine are seized in Europe, while production of the drug now takes place within the EU.

While the agency said it is too early to assess the impact on the heroin trade of the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan, the agency noted it could lead to an increase. According to the report, poppy cultivation in the country continues despite a ban on production and sales.

“The country’s current financial difficulties could make drug revenue a more important source of income,” the report said.

The report also looked at the war in Ukraine and noted that the conflict could affect smuggling routes.

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