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EU drug report 2023: 'We never had so many drugs smuggled or produced in Europe'

A man prepares drugs in a syringe.
A man prepares drugs in a syringe. Copyright DARRYL DYCK/AP2011
Copyright DARRYL DYCK/AP2011
By Christopher Pitchers
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The annual study released by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) warned that the use of illegal substances is a concern to the health of people on the continent, as well as its security.

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Drugs and the use of illicit substances are having an increasingly negative impact on nearly all aspects of European life, according to the EU's drug agency.

In its annual report released on Friday, the EMCDDA said that drug use is seen "almost everywhere in our society", with most people being either directly or indirectly affected by it or the difficulties associated with it.

Availability of many different illicit substances remains stubbornly high too and with new ones being regularly discovered by the agency, it says that the problem is growing more complex and difficult to handle.

In an interview with Euronews, Alexis Goosdeel, the director of the EMCDDA, said that the developments are concerning.

"What the report is showing and presenting today is a confirmation of the trend that we observe in the last two or three years, which is that drugs are everywhere. We never had so many drugs being smuggled through Europe or produced in Europe," he said.

"Drugs can be everything. Everything can be the object of addictive behaviour and then everyone can be confronted either personally or indirectly, to any kind of addictive behaviour or among their relatives or people they know.

"But also everyone can be much more than before confronted with the consequences of drug-related violence and here we talk about something that until ten years ago when we spoke about drug-related violence, we spoke about Central America. Today, we speak about Europe."

Cannabis and cocaine most used illegal drugs

The European Drug Report 2023, which covers the year 2021, confirms that cannabis remains Europe's most commonly used illegal drug, adding that the situation is becoming increasingly difficult to manage due to new forms and uses of it, as well as a wide range of policies throughout EU countries.

In 2021, 816 tonnes of cannabis resin and 256 tonnes of herbal cannabis were seized by EU authorities - their highest level in a decade.

Mark Lennihan/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved
Cannabis gummies on display at a convention.Mark Lennihan/Copyright 2019 The AP. All rights reserved

At the same time, there was an historically high availability of cocaine in Europe, with a record 303 tonnes of cocaine confiscated by EU authorities.

The drug was also related to around a fifth of deaths by overdose in 2021 and is even suggested to be under-reported.

"We can be fairly sure this is an underestimate because in some cases, the use or abuse of cocaine also mixed with other substances can have an effect as a heart attack," Goosdeel told Euronews. 

"And therefore the heart attacks may not be automatically identified as related to cocaine use."

Access to help must be improved

Despite Europe's widespread drug use, help for addicts remains relatively low in comparison.

The report notes that although the situation has improved over the years, there is still much more work to done.

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Drug consumption rooms (DCRs), where addicts can go to a safe space to use substances, are becoming more commonplace, helping to get people off the street, as well as providing a sterile environment to use.

Bruno Valkeneers, a communication manager at Gate - a DCR in Brussels - told Euronews that the use of crack cocaine is on the rise in the Belgian capital.

"What is very impressive is the use of crack. What we see also on the market is new dealers selling stones of crack. It was not like that a few years ago in Belgium, mainly culturally, if I can say like that, the users made their own crack by themselves," he said.

"But for five years we see a new scene of traffic with people who sell immediately stones of crack."

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Corruption in Europe 'underestimated'

Violence and corruption are also closely linked to the drug trade and use of them in the report, which states that levels are increasing.

The drugs agency director said that this threatens European security and stability.

"Corruption as a whole is a huge risk for democracy and for the rule of law. It is not only associated to drugs. Today we see it more in the context of drug trafficking, in particular cocaine," he said.

"But organised criminal groups are spread and they are very well implemented and organised. The corruption is not only a corruption associated to drugs, it's more visible today because of seizures, because of the changes on the cocaine market.

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He also said that the problem is sometimes overlooked.

"But it's a much more general problem and some studies and some international programmes showed that the corruption in Europe sometimes maybe was underestimated."

The report adds that new, stronger substances are being discovered regularly, making Europe's drug problem more and more complex.

Goodsdeel warns that the issue should not be brushed aside.

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"The biggest risk would be to underestimate the problem," he said.

"But there is an increased awareness that we have a problem, that it is everywhere. It's not yet widespread in terms of use, but we need to increase our preparedness."

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