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A recent seizure of cocaine and heroin in Croatia. Alamy Stock Photo
cocaine and heroin

Revenue sees 'significant' rise in Irish cocaine seizures while Europe shifts focus in heroin trade

Revenue chairman Niall Cody appeared today before the Public Accounts Committee and a new Europol reports reveals the current trade in heroin across the EU.

A REVENUE CUSTOM’S official has told an Oireachtas committee that the agency’s work has “exploded” with cocaine now a hugely significant part of their operations.  

Speaking at the Oireachtas Public Account Committee this morning Revenue’s chairman Niall Cody said that massive seizures have been a “highlight” for the body.

Cody referenced the joint operation with gardaí, Revenue and the Irish Defence Forces on the MV Matthew operation which netted €157m of alleged cocaine, the largest drug seizure in the history of the state.

He also referenced the major seizure of alleged cocaine worth €21m on a ship in Foynes, Co Limerick

Cody said that the main focus of drug interdiction work by Customs was in Rosslare Europort due to a huge volume of ferries arriving in the port.

He also noted the importance of the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) – an intelligence management agency based in Lisbon. Cody said that there was a Revenue member stationed their permanently.


Meanwhile in Europe, Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), have released a report looking at the heroin and the broader illicit opioid trade.

The findings of the report have said that the trafficking of heroin has the potential to shift as Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have successfully cracked down on opium poppy cultivation. 

Latest United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) figures for 2023 show a 95% decline both in cultivation and in illicit opium production in the country. Cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 10 800 hectares in 2023 compared to 233 000 hectares in 2022.

Opium production is now at 333 tonnes which is down from 6,200 tonnes in 2022.

Despite this the report said there are no signs of heroin shortages in Europe at present. 

“Nonetheless, the Taliban’s ban on opium cultivation, if it is sustained, could have a significant impact on heroin availability in Europe in the future,” the report states.

The report also found that three primary routes for smuggling is through the Balkans and countries such as Turkey, Azerbaijan and the wider Caucasus region.

Stricter border controls in Bulgaria and Turkey have limited that route. A new path is through the United Arab Emirates, the report stated.  

Europol said it will take time for the developments in Afghanistan to be felt in the EU and cautioned that a decrease in heroin availability could lead to “market gaps being filled by potent synthetic opioids or stimulants”.

Europol said these opioids were likely to be methamphetamine and cathinones, “with significant negative effects on public health and security”. 

While the US has been gripped by the fentanyl crisis in which synthetic drugs are being blamed for large numbers of deaths Ireland has also seen 

Traces of a powerful synthetic opioid were detected in heroin samples related to overdoses in Dublin city last November.

Fifty-seven people overdosed prompting the HSE to issue a warning to users. A trace amount of a nitazene-type substance was identified in a brown powder analysed by Forensic Science Ireland.

Europol, in its report, said that Europe has an “increasingly complex” opioid market – with a rise in “diverted medicines and internationally controlled or new highly potent synthetic opioids”.

It said drugs such as Methadone, buprenorphine, fentanyl and its derivatives and new synthetic opioids have become more visible in data in deaths and overdoses statistics.

“Concerningly, over the past five years, most of the newly identified opioid substances reported to the EU Early Warning System on new psychoactive substances have been highly potent benzimidazole (nitazene) opioids, rather than fentanyl derivatives as in previous years,” it said. 

But there is some hope as Europol stated that the EU is impacted to a lesser extent than North America.

“This can be attributed to protective factors such as strict prescribing practices, social healthcare provisions in most countries, and well-developed treatment and harm reduction services for existing opioid users.

“Nevertheless, these substances play a prominent role in some EU Member States, particularly Nordic and Baltic countries, and the analysis calls for actions to increase preparedness across the EU,” the report claimed.