BRUSSELS (AP) — Drug trafficking and use across the European Union are returning to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest report published by the bloc's drug agency on Tuesday.
As COVID-19 restrictions and increased border controls have been relaxed on the continent, the EMCDDA said drugs are available in large quantities in the region, and in some cases above pre-pandemic levels.
Hundreds of drug production laboratories are being dismantled, and new psychoactive substances are appearing in the bloc every week. In 2021, 52 new drugs were reported for the first time, the agency said.
“For me, the take-home message that stands out from our analysis of drug trends in 2022 can be summarized as ‘Everywhere. Everything. Everyone,’" said the agency director, Alexis Goosdeel.
About 83.4 million people aged 15-64 in the EU, or 29% of that population, are estimated to have ever used an illicit drug, with more men than women reporting use.
The agency said cannabis remains the most popular substance, with over 22 million people reporting its use in 2021, ahead of cocaine, MDMA and amphetamines. Some 1 million Europeans used heroin or another illicit opioid. An estimated 5,800 overdose deaths occurred in the EU in 2020, the most recent year for which that figure was provided.
The report pointed to an increased use of social media applications and encrypted messaging services to get access to products during the pandemic, a model that is likely to persist.
The agency said last month that record amounts of cocaine are being seized in Europe while manufacturing of the drug is now taking place inside the the EU.
While the agency said it's too early to assess the impact on heroin trafficking of the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the agency noted it could lead to an increase. According to the report, poppy cultivation continues in the country despite a ban on production and sale.
“The country’s current financial problems might make drug revenues a more important source of income," the report said.
The report also looked at the war in Ukraine, noting that the conflict could have consequences for smuggling routes.