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The European drug market 2016
Second in a series of posts on the EMCDDA Drug report 2016 looks at changes in drug markets and drug supply.

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Drug supply and the market

This is the second in a short series of posts on the 2016 European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) annual drugs report.

This post summarises some of the report’s key findings about drug supply and the market.


In the global context, Europe is an important market for drugs, supported by both domestic production and drugs trafficked from other world regions. South America, West Asia and North Africa are important source areas for illicit drugs entering Europe, while China and India are source countries for new psychoactive substances.

In addition, some drugs and precursors are transited through Europe en route to other continents. Europe is also a producing region for cannabis and synthetic drugs, with cannabis mostly produced for local consumption, while some of the synthetic drugs are manufactured for export to other parts of the world.

Drug markets

Illicit drug markets are complex systems of production and distribution that generate large sums of money at different levels. A conservative estimate values the retail market for illicit drugs in the European Union at €24.3 billion in 2013.

Cannabis products account for the largest share (€9.3 billion = 38%) of the illicit drug market in Europe. This is followed by heroin, estimated at €6.8 billion (28 %), and cocaine at €5.7 billion (24 %). Amphetamines occupy a smaller market share, estimated at €1.8 billion (8 %), ahead of MDMA, at almost €0.7 billion (3%).

Opioids: market change?

Following a decade of relative stability, markets in a number of European countries experienced reduced heroin availability in 2010/11. This is evident in heroin seizure data, which declined in the European Union from around 50 000 seizures in 2009 to 32 000 in 2014. The quantity of heroin seized within the EU showed a long-term decline, from 10 tonnes in 2002 to 5 tonnes in 2012, before increasing markedly to 8.9 tonnes in 2014.

This reversal in trend is due to an increase in large seizures (above 100 kg), with several countries reporting record-breaking heroin seizures in 2013 or 2014. In particular Greece and to a lesser extent Bulgaria reported large increases in quantities of heroin seized in the most recent data. Since 2003, Turkey has seized far more heroin than any EU country, seizing around 13 tonnes in 2014.

Data suggest that heroin purity increased in Europe in 2014. This, together with the rise in quantities seized and other developments, may signal a potential for the availability of this drug to increase.

EMCDDA 16 opioids

New psychoactive substances: market diversity

The EMCDDA monitors new psychoactive substances (NPS); in 2015, 98 new substances were detected for the first time, bringing the number of new substances identified since since 2009 to more than 560.

The largest group (160+) of NPS are synthetic cannabinoids with synthetic cathinones (stimulants such as mephedrone) the second largest (93).


The number of seizures of NPS has increased recently, reflecting their growing popularity. In 2014, almost 50 000 seizures of new substances, weighing almost 4 tonnes, were made across Europe.

Legal responses

Europe as a whole and individual countries of course have adopted different strategies seeking to limit the supply and use of drugs. The EMCDDA monitors laws to curb drug supply and use across the continent.

In the European Union, there were an estimated 1.6 million offences reported (most of them related to cannabis; 57 %) in 2014, involving around 1 million offenders. Reported offences increased by almost a third (34 %) between 2006 and 2014.

In most European countries, the majority of reported drug law offences relate to use or possession for use. In Europe, overall, it is estimated that more than 1 million of these offences were reported in 2014, a 24 % increase compared with 2006. Of the reported drug offences related to possession, more than three-quarters involve cannabis. The upward trends in offences for cannabis, amphetamines and MDMA possession continued in 2014.

Overall, reports of drug supply offences have increased by 10 % since 2006, reaching an estimate of more than 214 000 cases in 2014. As with possession offences, cannabis accounted for the majority. Cocaine, heroin and amphetamines, however, accounted for a larger share of offences for supply than for personal possession.

The downward trends in offences for heroin and cocaine supply have not continued into 2014, and there has been a sharp increase in reports of supply offences for MDMA:

EMCDDA 2016 drug offences

The diversion of substitution medicines

The EMCDDA report section on drug markets and supply ends by identifying a growing concern about the diversion of opioid substitution medicines (methadone etc.) from their intended use in drug treatment to non-medical use and sale on illicit drug markets.


Next Saturday’s post will look at the changes in drug use prevalence and trends in Europe.

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