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Irish adults among Europe's biggest users of cocaine and MDMA as experts warn of 'Uberisation' of drugs trade

The findings were outlined in the EU’s drugs agency’s annual report today.

Image: Shutterstock/photopixel

IRISH ADULTS ARE among the biggest users of cocaine in Europe as orders for drugs are increasingly being made via smartphones and on darknet markets, experts have said.

The findings are contained with the EU’s drugs agency’s annual report, published today, which also noted that European authorities are seizing record quantities of increasingly pure cocaine.

The rise in trafficking on social media, darknet markets and cocaine “call centres”, where dealers deliver quickly to users who order online, are creating a “potential ‘Uberisation’” of the drugs trade, it said.

“There is a steady increase in the size of the market and sale over the internet and darknet,” Alexis Goosdeel, head of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), said in Brussels today.

The report found that Irish adults were the third-biggest users of cocaine in the last 12 months, behind the United Kingdom and Spain.

Ireland was also among six countries which noted an increase in the number of crack cocaine users who have presented for treatment since 2014.

Meanwhile, only the United Kingdom had a higher number of problem opioid users – a group including heroin users – while Irish adults were also among the biggest users of MDMA and amphetamines.

Record cocaine seizures

Dimitris Avramopoulos, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, told reporters in Brussels that the “report presents a worrying picture” with the record seizures of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.

He also said the EU and its partners had “no time to spare” in tackling “the role of digitalisation in the drug market”.

EU member states seized 140 tonnes of cocaine in 2017, the highest level ever recorded, with an average street price of €55 to €82 per gram in the EU.

Belgium accounted for the highest proportion of cocaine seizures with 45 tonnes, followed by Spain with 41 tonnes.

An increase in trafficking via shipping containers is a “major challenge”, the report said.

It also found that the purity of cocaine at street level reached its highest level in a decade in 2017, while its retail price has remained stable.

The MDMA content of the party drug ecstasy also reached a ten-year high the same year.

Although an international crackdown on chemicals used to produce that synthetic drug disrupted the market in the late 2000s, producers have increasingly been using non-controlled chemicals to manufacture it.

Most seized drug

Meanwhile, cannabis accounted for nearly three-quarters of illicit drugs seizures in the EU in 2017.

Herbal cannabis consumed in Europe is mainly cultivated in Europe, but cannabis resin or hashish tends to be imported from Morocco, and increasingly from Libya.

Almost three-quarters of the cannabis resin seized in the EU in 2017 was in Spain, whose proximity to north Africa makes it a hub for sending drugs to Europe.

Turkey is also noted as a significant transit country for drugs trafficking between Europe and the Middle East, despite its strict drugs laws.

It seized more MDMA tablets (8.6 million) and more amphetamine (6.6 tonnes) than all the EU member states combined in 2017.

There were also more heroin seizures (129,000) in Turkey than all EU countries combined.

Since 2014, Turkey has participated in the EMCDDA’s work and is a full member of the management board though without the right to vote.

Synthetic drugs – which mimic the effects of other drugs such as heroin – have become more common, the report said.

Eleven new synthetic opioids were detected in Europe in 2018, usually in the form of powders, tablets and liquids.

With only very small volumes needed to produce many thousands of street doses, these substances are easy to conceal and transport, representing a challenge for law enforcement and customs.

With additional reporting from - © AFP 2019

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