Drug traffickers are adapting to Covid-19 travel restrictions and border closures by switching from using human couriers to shipping containers and commercial supply chains, European officials have warned.
Law enforcement experts say the illicit drug market has proved “remarkably resilient” to the disruption caused by the pandemic as traffickers alter the routes and methods used in wholesale smuggling and increase the production of illegal drugs in Europe.
Cannabis resin produced in Morocco and typically brought into Spain to be trafficked over land into the rest of the EU had increasingly shifted to maritime routes using shipping containers, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said in its 2021 report on Wednesday.
An increase in maritime seizures of heroin, usually smuggled over land from the Middle East to Europe, has also been reported. Large seizures of both cannabis and heroin were reported in a number of European seaports in the second half of 2020, the agency said.
Highlighting the use of business supply chains, the report said new forms of tranquillisers appear to have been shipped from companies in China as bulk powders to Europe, where they are processed into finished products including tablets, capsules and e-liquids for vaping.
Organised crime groups were also intensifying illegal drug production in Europe, the report said. Despite disruptions caused by Covid-19, cannabis cultivation and synthetic drug production within the EU appeared stable at pre-pandemic levels. Signs of a possible increase in crack cocaine availability and use linked to the pandemic were also a concern.
“We are witnessing a dynamic and adaptive drug market that is resilient to Covid-19 restrictions,” said Alexis Goosdeel, director of the Lisbon-based agency. “We are also seeing patterns of drug use that are increasingly complex, as consumers are exposed to a wider range of highly potent natural and synthetic substances.”
Officials are concerned that an increase in insomnia and anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic could lead more people to self-medicate with new forms of tranquillisers sold by criminal gangs and often marketed as “designer benzodiazepines”.
These drugs are not controlled by international drug laws and are frequently sold as “legal” replacements for prescription drugs such as Valium and Xanax, the report said.
Users may be unaware of the substances or doses they are taking, increasing the risk of severe poisoning, particularly if consumed with alcohol or other sedatives, according to the EMCDDA.
“New benzodiazepines have firmly established themselves on the new drugs market in Europe,” said Goosdeel. “It is likely that more substances from this group will continue to appear as users seek new drug experiences or alternatives to unavailable prescription medicines.”
While street-based retail drug markets were disrupted during early lockdowns in 2020, drug sellers and buyers also adapted by increasing their use of encrypted messaging services, social media apps, online sources and mail and home delivery services, the report said.
This raised the question of “whether a long-term impact of the pandemic could be the further digitalisation of drug markets”.
This is not a CAPTIS article. Originally, it was published here.