Illegal drug markets 'spiralling out of control'

By agency reporter
November 27, 2019

Europol and the European Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction have released the latest drug-market statistics for Europe. They show increases in the availability and purity of drugs across Europe, and suggest criminal suppliers are outpacing law enforcement across the board. 

The report shows that drug markets and organised crime groups are adapting to police enforcement, often becoming more violent and exploitative. They are also becoming more innovative, especially in their use of online and digital resources.

Key points relating to the UK:

  • The ‘county lines’ model of drug supply exploiting children and vulnerable people as drug couriers has become widespread in the United Kingdom
  • Organised Crime Groups (OCGs) are often engaged in trafficking drugs and firearms together, and the drug trade appears to be a significant factor in the proliferation of illicit firearms in the EU
  • Between April 2017 and March 2018, 12 seizures were identified within Europe, where firearms were being trafficked with heroin, and 19 with cocaine
  • Organised Crime Groups in the UK have the highest sales revenue of illegal drugs sold on the darknet.
  • UK police forces are reporting increased use of firearms and exploitation of vulnerable people via ‘county lines’
  • UK domestic production of cannabis is ‘widespread’, with British and South-East Asian OCGs controlling these operations

Dr James Nicholls, CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation said: “This report confirms that the illicit drug market is expanding and innovating despite the best efforts of international law enforcement, which is clearly unable to keep pace.

“Drug markets are becoming more innovative and more violent. The report points especially to the role of ‘county lines’ drug supply in the exploitation of vulnerable people in the UK.

“The current system is clearly not working, and we need a different approach. The only way to undermine organised crime, and to reduce the enormous harm that  illegal drug markets create, is to legally regulate drug supply. The goal of a drug-free world is unrealistic: the choice is between ongoing criminal control, and an endless cycle of high-cost, ineffective enforcement, or grasping the nettle of government regulation.”

* Read the Europol report here

* Read the Transform briefing on County Lines here

* Transform Drug Policy Foundation works to reduce drug-related harms through evidence-based reforms to policy and practice. It supports the legal regulation of drugs, and campaigns for policies that promote health and social justice. https://transformdrugs.org/

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