Europol 2024 Report: EU Drug Markets Analysis, Key insights for Policy and Practice

This section presents key insights from the current analysis of EU drug markets, covering the range of market dynamics, geopolitical factors, criminal operations and socioeconomic consequences. The latest data and analysis show a large, complex and constantly evolving EU drug market.

Based on 2021 data, the EU drug market is estimated to have a minimum retail value of at least EUR 31 billion. It is a major income source for organised crime. A key feature of this market is the interconnectedness between different illicit drugs, with criminal networks and key brokers and facilitators often engaging in poly-drug criminality. The large EU drug market also intersects with, and has a significant impact on other crime areas, such as the trafficking in firearms and money laundering.

Availability remains high across the main drugs used in Europe, evidenced by the large and in some cases increasing quantities that continue to be seized in the European Union (Figure 2). In addition, the market for illicit drugs is characterised by the diversification of consumer products and the widespread availability of a broader range of drugs, including new psychoactive substances, often of high potency or purity. Specialised equipment may be required to meet the detection and monitoring challenges posed by this diversification. The recent emergence of highly potent opioids, particularly benzimidazoles (nitazenes), poses a particularly complex threat to public health due to their increased risk of life-threatening poisoning. The potential emergence of new patterns of consumption in Europe is also a key threat, due to the availability of cheap and highly potent or pure drugs. This is particularly the case for cocaine, which has seen unprecedented levels of availability.


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A major contributing factor to increasing efficiency is the trend towards trafficking larger individual consignments of drugs by sea, exploiting containers flowing through global logistics hubs. As a result, over the last ten years, the quantity of drugs seized in the European Union has increased considerably while the number of seizures across most drug types has decreased (Figure 2). The decrease in the number of seizures may partly be explained by a reduced focus and de-prioritisation of enforcement of drug possession and use offences in some Member States.

Industrial-scale production of cannabis and synthetic drugs, such as amphetamine, methamphetamine, MDMA and cathinones, takes place in the EU for both domestic and international markets. The scale and complexity of synthetic drug production in Europe is driven by innovation in methods and equipment, and the availability of the key chemicals needed. Large-scale cocaine processing also now takes place inside the European Union. Europe is also likely an important transit zone for global drug flows, particularly cocaine from Latin America and to a lesser extent amphetamine in the form of captagon tablets from Syria and Lebanon.

A diverse range of criminal networks operate in the EU drug market. These networks demonstrate a high level of adaptability, capitalising on technological advancements and broader societal changes, exploiting legal business structures and taking advantage of opportunities in the traditional and digital economies. Criminals often rely on other networks or brokers to facilitate their illicit activities. This also gives them the flexibility to diversify sources and products, trafficking routes and concealment methods – enhancing their efficiency and adaptability to minimise risks and maximise profits.

The EU drug market has shown remarkable resilience to global crises, instability and significant political and economic changes. Recent examples of such shocks include the COVID-19 pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and the Taliban’s rise to power in Afghanistan. In response, criminal networks have adapted, changing trafficking routes and diversifying their methods. Simultaneously, these developments have also influenced the emergence of new markets and in some cases appear to have changed consumer preferences.

March 20, 2024 Published by EUROPOL. (Download PDF Report)

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