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article imageCocaine 'resurgence' in EU as South America output rises: watchdog

By Alexandre HIELARD, Cédric SIMON (AFP)     Jun 7, 2018 in World

Europe is witnessing a "resurgence" in cocaine use as the drug's output increases in Latin America, an EU watchdog reported Thursday, voicing concern over tens of thousands of people seeking treatment for the first time.

An estimated 2.34 million people aged 15 to 34 years old used cocaine in the last year in the European Union, or 1.9 percent of that age group, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction said.

"The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America," EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel said.

The report, based mainly on figures from 2016 and 2017, said water analysis, the presence of purer strains and increased seizures all pointed to cocaine becoming more available in Europe.

It said there were increases of cocaine residue in municipal waste water in 26 of 31 European cities surveyed in the last three years.

The highest traces were found in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Britain, with the lowest in eastern European cities.

The agency said the purest strains of cocaine in a decade were being sold on the street, even if the price has remained relatively constant.

"The substances detected are becoming more and more potent and therefore dangerous," the EU's home affairs commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told reporters.

Authorities made 98,000 seizures of the drug amounting to 70.9 million tonnes in 2016, up from 90,000 seizures in 2015, the agency said.

The EMCDDA noted that 30,300 people were admitted for the first time to specialised treatment centres in 2016 -- up nearly 20 percent from 2014.

Though treatment centre admissions have not returned to the high levels of a decade ago, Goosdeel warned: "We must be concerned about the health implications of cocaine."

He stressed "the growing importance of providing effective prevention, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for cocaine users".

- More local production -

Police in Germany seized cocaine with a value of 800 million euro in July 2017
Police in Germany seized cocaine with a value of 800 million euro in July 2017
Christian Charisius, dpa/AFP/File

In Europe, cocaine is most commonly available in the form of white powder that is snorted, though it is also found in the smokeable form of crack cocaine.

It is made from the leaves of the coca bush, which is cultivated mainly in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

Traffickers send the cocaine to Europe via passenger flights, air freight, postal services, private aircraft, yachts and maritime containers.

The EMCDDA estimated the European cocaine retail market at a minimum of 5.7 billion euros ($6.7 billion) in 2013, the latest figures available.

The report noted that more cocaine now appeared to be entering northern ports such as in Belgium than southern ports like those in Spain, the historic entry point.

In 2016, Belgian authorities seized 30 tonnes of cocaine, about 43 percent of the annual total seized across the EU. In contrast, Spain seized 15.6 tonnes.

Despite concerns over cocaine, the agency noted that cannabis remained the most widely consumed drug in Europe, with 17.2 million young people aged 15 to 34 years old using it in the last year.

Some 77 percent of the 800,000 drug use or possession offences reported in the EU in 2016 involved cannabis, it added.

Though Europe has long been a market for drugs from South America, north Africa and central Asia, homegrown laboratory production of cocaine and ecstasy targeting home markets is on the rise, the report said.

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