EU report: Illicit drug sales moved online during lockdowns

Packets containing cocaine which was hidden in boxes of bananas are seen at Malta Freeport, an international transshipment hub on Maltas southeastern tip, after it was seized by Customs Malta, late Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The customs department in Malta intercepted 740 kilograms (1,630 pounds) of cocaine Tuesday in a record-breaking drug seizure for the Mediterranean island nation, officials said. (Customs Malta via AP)
Packets containing cocaine which was hidden in boxes of bananas are seen at Malta Freeport, an international transshipment hub on Maltas southeastern tip, after it was seized by Customs Malta, late Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The customs department in Malta intercepted 740 kilograms (1,630 pounds) of cocaine Tuesday in a record-breaking drug seizure for the Mediterranean island nation, officials said. (Customs Malta via AP)

MADRID – Illegal drug production on European soil increased during the coronavirus pandemic last year as lockdowns helped move drug sales from streets to encrypted online platforms, according to an analysis of continental drug trends released Wednesday.

The 2021 European Drug Report says criminal groups also adapted to travel restrictions and border closures by relying less on human couriers and turning instead to shipping containers and commercial supply chains to smuggle illicit substances.

The report is produced annually by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction drawing data from the European Union's 27 member countries, Turkey and Norway.

Its authors said that while strict stay-at-home orders in most countries disrupted street drug sales, the market moved to encrypted messaging and social media platforms for negotiating purchases and to home delivery services for distribution.

“This draws attention to whether a long-term impact of the pandemic could be the further digitalization of drug markets,” the EMCDDA report states..

There were 46 new drugs detected in 2020 alone, including new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids, the report said.

European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson said “the highly pure and potent substances” found in the surveyed countries were a cause of special concern.

Illegal drug usage in general, she warned, carries environmental, health and security risks for the EU.