Europeans Spending More than Ever on the Illegal Market—A Surge in Domestic Threat

February 21, 2020

Europeans are spending at least EUR 30 billion on drugs each year, according to the latest 2019 EU Drug Markets Report. Published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), the research provides a comprehensive overview of illicit drug markets in the EU.

Among its key findings, the report reveals that Europeans are spending more than ever before on illegal drugs:

  • In 2016, the same report revealed EU citizens were spending over EUR 24 billion (with estimated figures ranging between EUR 21 to 31 billion) every year on illicit drugs.
  • In 2018, the figure had risen, with the retail market for illegal drugs in the EU estimated to be worth at least 24 billion euros.

Growing demand for illegal drugs has been fuelled, in part, by the rising number of EU-based illegal operations and a rapidly evolving drug market. Drug trafficking has become a core business for organized crime groups across Europe as it poses highly profitable commercial activity.

“Hyper-production of drugs within and beyond E.U. borders” —EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel

These latest statistics reinforce the increasing importance of Europe’s role, not just as a target, but as a drug-producing and transit region.

In recent years, criminal organizations have increasingly moved their operations inside EU nations’ borders, opting to abandon their traditional models of sourcing illegal drugs from abroad.

The report reveals how many illegal enterprises are now operating domestically to fuel growing user demand—producing drugs close to where they are designed to be consumed.

Illegal networks have become more internationally connected and are exploiting legal transportation networks and frameworks. Facilitated by the EU’s infrastructure, criminal organizations are exploiting the EU’s border policies and freedom of movement, abusing the relative ease of transporting goods across the continent. By moving operations inland, drugs can be produced and carried across borders closer to home, and traffickers can set up shop to cater to local markets.

The EU picture

The EU is a staggeringly large market for goods in general, with consumer spending increasing to EUR 2044069.20 million in the third quarter of 2019. The trade of illicit goods in its many forms does not operate in a vacuum; this trend toward bringing illegal operations inland echoes that seen in other illicit markets—most notably, illicit tobacco trade.

Criminal gangs are increasingly setting up illicit tobacco factories inside the EU in order to avoid tougher border control—echoing the trend published in the latest drugs report:

  • Last year, 29 raids across five countries closed down a number of illegal cigarette factories across Europe.
  • This was echoed by raids on illegal cigarette factories across Central Europe, where, in Hungary, 6 million cigarettes and enough tobacco to produce 21 million cigarettes were found.

The rise of globalization is cited as both a top force driving and facilitating the development of this drug market, as well as its solution. Despite the issue being a domestic one, the report reveals that to respond more effectively to the drug market in Europe, authorities must act at a global level— engaging with international organizations and non-EU countries to understand developments in drug production, trafficking and use.


Written by STOP: ILLEGAL

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