More young adults in Britain than anywhere else in Europe have taken cocaine in the last 12 months, at a time when availability is at an unprecedented level across the continent, according to the EU drugs agency.
A report on the latest trends in illicit drug use suggests that 5.3% of people aged between 15 and 34 in the UK took cocaine in 2018, the most recent year for which records are available. About half of Europe’s 15,000 crack-related treatment demands have been reported by the UK authorities.
The second highest proportion of cocaine users was recorded by Denmark and the Netherlands, year. where 3.9% of young adults had taken the drug in the 12 months previous to being asked about their habits.
Alexis Goosdeel, the director of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, said cocaine’s role in Europe’s drug problem was increasing just as Europe was heading into an economic recession.
The purity of cocaine sold on the streets is higher than ever. The number of seizures in the EU reached the highest levels ever recorded, with more than 110,000 reported in 2018, amounting to 181 tonnes, suggesting an “unprecedented level” of availability. “It is a perfect storm we want to avoid,” Goosdeel said.
The additional concern in the UK will be that a significant proportion of the shipments entering Spain, Belgium or the Netherlands have subsequently ended up in the British market. Last year, a Home Office drug review led by Prof Carol Black found that middle-class drug takers were driving a rise in heavy cocaine use.
Goosdeel said organised crime had also proven to be “extremely resilient” during the coronavirus pandemic, fuelling a digital transformation of the illicit trade in consumer countries.
With street dealing affected by restrictions on movement, consumers and dealers turned to the use of online “dark net” markets, social media platforms and parcel and home delivery services.
He added that during the pandemic there has been an increase in the “cashless” purchase of drugs.
Why did Mexico launch its war on drugs?
On 10 December 2006, Felipe Calderón launched Mexico’s war on drugs by sending 6,500 troops into his home state of Michoacán, where rival cartels were engaged in tit-for-tat massacres.
Calderón declared war eight days after taking power – a move widely seen as an attempt to boost his own legitimacy after a bitterly contested election victory. Within two months, around 20,000 troops were involved in operations.
What has the war cost so far?
The US has donated at least $1.5bn through the Merida Initiative since 2008, while Mexico spent at least $54bn on security and defence between 2007 and 2016. Critics say that this influx of cash has helped create an opaque security industry open to corruption.
But the biggest costs have been human: since 2007, over 250,000 people have been murdered, more than 40,000 reported as disappeared and 26,000 unidentified bodies in morgues across the country. Human rights groups have also detailed a vast rise in human rights abuses including torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances by state security forces.
Peña Nieto claimed to have killed or detained 110 of 122 of his government's most wanted narcos. But his biggest victory – and most embarrassing blunder – was the recapture, escape, another recapture and extradition of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
Mexico’s decade-long war on drugs would never have been possible without the injection of American cash and military cooperation under the Merida Initiative. The funds have continued to flow despite indisputable evidence of human rights violations.
Under new president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, murder rates are up and a new security force, the Civil Guard, is being deployed onto the streets despite campaign promises to end the drug war.
What has been achieved?
Improved collaboration between the US and Mexico has resulted in numerous high-profile arrests and drug busts. Officials say 25 of the 37 drug traffickers on Calderón’s most-wanted list have been jailed, extradited to the US or killed, although not all of these actions have been independently corroborated.
The biggest victory – and most embarrassing blunder – under Peña Nieto’s leadership was the recapture, escape and another recapture of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa cartel.
While the crackdown and capture of kingpins has won praise from the media and US, it has done little to reduce the violence.
Goosdeel said: “What we also observe that during the period of the pandemic, certainly in the first phase of the lockdown for obvious reasons … there has been different ways to still purchase drugs they used the web, Facebook or other social media or are using messaging systems that are encrypted and in some cases using the dark net.”
Monitoring of the illegal drugs market suggests that, at wholesale level, smuggling by air passenger transport declined during the pandemic but that trafficking by maritime shipping continued at pre-pandemic levels. Synthetic drug production and cannabis cultivation in Europe also did not appear to be seriously affected.
Goosdeel said there was widespread infiltration of the legitimate supply chains by the drug gangs. “Large shipments are becoming the main way of conveying these drugs through the European territory,” he said.
The agency found that across Europe, overdoses in the 50-plus age group were a concern, with a 75% increase between 2012 and 2018. There were an estimated 8,300 overdose deaths in 2018.