Covid-19 pushes drug trafficking on social networks | Drugs

Less cocaine and more benzodiazepines. The pandemic crisis has reduced the consumption of illicit drugs normally used for recreational purposes, such as ecstasy and cocaine, but has led to “an apparent increase in the use of other substances, such as cannabis and the new benzodiazepines”. This warning is contained in the “European Drugs Report 2020”, from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), published on Tuesday.

After the initial decline of the local drug markets dictated by containment (and which even led to a scarcity of supply and, consequently, to price increases), “organized criminal groups quickly adapted their mode of operation”. Practical translation: Instead of road traffic, consumers and resellers have started to use online marketplaces, especially on social media and the darknet, as well as home delivery services.

Nothing too new. This is the confirmation of a trend already observed. “There is less face to face and less trust in cash transactions and it is possible that these behavioral changes, once established, will persist beyond the pandemic,” admits the EMCDDA in this report.

Unsurprisingly, due to the closure of borders and the disruption of air traffic, “at the wholesale market level, smuggling by air passenger transport has declined”. Traffic by sea, on the other hand, “continued at pre-pandemic levels.” “The production of synthetic drugs and the cultivation of cannabis in Europe do not appear to have been seriously affected either,” the report’s authors also note.

For the director of the EMCDDA, Alexis Goosdeel, the long-term impact of the pandemic on drug trafficking and consumption remains to be assessed. And this despite the fact that in the short term, there are visible changes, such as the greater use of digital technologies. But the main concern is related to the overload of support services for addicts. That is, while they may have found new solutions for online and mobile health, the report said, it is expected that as the economic impact of the crisis worsens, some people will be “more vulnerable to drug-related problems and involvement in the drug market”, thus exerting increased pressure “on already overburdened services”.

“It is essential to act quickly to identify and address the new threats that could arise from this rapidly evolving situation,” warns the EMCDDA. This need is urgent when one takes into account the fact that users of illegal substances, especially long-term ones, are more susceptible to the effects of infection with the novel coronavirus. Because of the habits of sharing material, but also because it is a population whose immune system tends to be compromised.

More people are starting cocaine treatment

The threats come at a time when it is estimated that the European Union was the scene of 8,300 overdose deaths in 2018, according to the latest available data and which the report itself admits to be below reality. In any case, if we go back to 2012, and we stick to overdoses in the age group over 50, the increase amounts to 75%. “Deaths due to an opioid overdose can be avoided with the timely administration of naloxone”, insist EMCDDA officials, at a time when in Portugal, it is still difficult to allow street teams and the consumers themselves to use this opioid antagonist. Public health concerns are urgent given, as the authors of the report, that last year eight new uncontrolled synthetic opiates were detected for the first time. “Six are not derived from fentanyl, but pose a similar threat to public health,” they say.

After 25 years of monitoring the European drug market, the EMCDDA portrays a year 2019 marked by record seizures of cocaine, in particular in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. “Cocaine seizures reached an all-time high of 181 tonnes (110,000 seizures),” says the report, whose authors stress the concern to increase the purity of the substance, on the one hand, and the growing number of people. who are starting treatment for the first time, on the other hand.

It is estimated that in 2018 around 75,000 Europeans started treatment for cocaine use, 34,000 of them for the first time. “After a period of decline, treatments initiated for the first time with cocaine as the main drug of consumption increased between 2014 and 2018 in 22 European countries”, points out the document, which admits that there may be an interval of 11 years on average between the start of use and the request for treatment. The average age of consumers at the start of treatment is set at 34 years.

The volume of heroin seized in the European Union also almost doubled between 2017 and 2018 (from 5.2 to 9.7 tonnes). “There are constant reports on the manufacture of heroin in the European Union”, also reports the report, to underline the need for “more vigilance to detect any sign of increased interest of the consumers for this drug”.

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Cannabis twice as powerful

At a time when an estimated 96 million Europeans, or 29% of adults aged 15 to 64, have tried an illegal drug at least once in their life, the EMCDDA adds new concerns to those already listed and that they are linked to the increase in the production of synthetic drugs, as well as the increasing potency of cannabis. “Cannabis resin and herbal cannabis now contain, on average, about twice as much THC as ten years ago. This requires “strict monitoring of the market”, at a time when new forms of cannabis are also emerging “, reads the document, which cites as examples the concentrated and edible derivatives.

In this regard, it should be remembered that around 15% of young European adults reported having used cannabis in the past year.

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