The Group of Eight major industrialized economies want to stop the cocaine industry dead in its tracks. But experts say they may be focusing too much on smuggling and not enough on drug use.
Cocaine use in Europe has doubled in the last 10 years
French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned in Paris last week that the number of cocaine users in Europe has doubled in the last 10 years. That number currently stands at roughly four million, and growing. With this in mind, representatives from the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized nations met recently in the French capital, accompanied by officials from 14 other European, African and Latin American nations, to sign a draft action plan against the transatlantic cocaine trade.
The agreement already has the signatures of representatives of 22 other nations affected by the cocaine cartels, and is expected to be adopted at the next G8 Summit on May 26-27 in Deauville, France, which is currently chairing the group.
From crop to street
The heroin trade is also targeted under the G8 agreement
The coca plant from which cocaine is produced is grown predominantly in those countries through which the Andes mountain range runs, such as Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. In recent years, the most common way for the end product to reach Europe has been via Africa. The exact routes, the location of drug stashes and the means of transportation are always sophisticated. For these reasons, the countries party to the G8 anti-drug trade agreement want to expand maritime cooperation and their intelligence-gathering capacities. They also want the power to deposit the assets seized from traffickers into a special United Nations fund to finance anti-trafficking operations in developing and emerging nations.
Much like many other industries, legal or otherwise, the drugs trade is determined by supply and demand. Tim Pfeiffer-Gerschel from the German Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (DBDD) believes, along with many other experts on the matter, that the money spent on drug-use prevention and addiction treatment is "insignificant" compared with the sums that go toward combating cocaine trafficking.
"In Germany, 10 percent of the total budget is invested in fighting drug trafficking," Pfeiffer-Gerschel told Deutsche Welle. In contrast, only around 2 percent is invested in preventative measures and treatment.
Gregor Burkhart from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) disagrees. He highlighted the importance of strengthening security arrangements, which he said was "the most expensive, but also the best way" to challenge the drug cartels.
UK, Spain top the list
Perhaps most worrying is that Europe is now the second-largest market, after North America, for cocaine worldwide. Consumption levels have soared rapidly, and by 2008, the European market was worth an estimated $34 billion (24 billion euros), only $3 billion less than the North American market. Around half of the profits flow into the hands of European dealers and distributors.
In England and Spain, cocaine use now surpasses levels seen in the United States and Canada, experts say. In third place stands Italy, trailed by Germany and France. After cannabis, cocaine is the illegal drug of choice for many in Europe, particularly in western parts of the continent. It is followed by ecstasy, amphetamines and opiates, particularly heroin.
In eastern Europe, meanwhile, alcohol had long been the intoxicant of choice, explains Pfeiffer-Gerschel, but all that quickly changed once Class A drugs entered the scene. "Then heroin turned up. Cocaine, however, was too expensive and less readily available," he says.
Now, he says, drug trafficking networks extend right through to Europe's eastern flanks. Cocaine consumption in eastern Europe still lags behind levels in western Europe. However, heroin consumption in places like Russia has increased, making that country the second-largest market for the drug in the region.
The EMCDDA says that between 35 and almost 100 percent of annual drug-related deaths in 22 European countries surveyed were heroin-related. Pfeiffer-Gerschel says many overdose while on a lethal cocktail of multiple drugs, among which is usually cocaine.
According to figures released in the EMCDDA World Drug Report 2010, of the 6,400-8,500 yearly drug-related deaths in Europe, half occurred in the UK and Germany, and around 1,000 were cocaine-related.
Protracted battle against cocaine
But drug prevention and awareness programs in schools and in the media are not enough to stem the problem, says Gregor Burkhart of EMCDDA.
On the contrary, media coverage sometimes gives the impression that drug use is normal and more prevalent than it actually is, he says. Some healthcare campaigns in the United States and Scotland, for instance, do a better job of sparking the interest of potential users rather than deterring them.
This has led to the creation of special programs in Britain, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden targeting families and sub-groups deemed vulnerable to drug use. Methods expounded in the classes are "anti-authoritarian, yet not without authority," says Burkhart. The overall goal is to argue against the use of any addictive substance, he says, and not just drugs like cocaine and heroin.
Laws that regulate the sale and consumption of alcohol and tobacco are especially important for the success of such programs. But Burkhart says that factors such as social imbalances, like those that exist in education and healthcare, as well as the income gap, must also be addressed.
Drug clinics specializing in outpatient therapy have also been set up. An example of this is Berlin's Kokon Center, which offers services outside of normal working hours and focuses exclusively on "problem areas" within the city. The goal of the center is to reach both the "typical" socially isolated user as well as the recreational user who takes drugs predominantly on weekends and at selected events. But according to Pfeiffer-Gerschel, centers like these are still few and far between, even in rich countries.
So how far along the road to defeating the illegal drugs trade are we? Back in 1998, the UN General Assembly set the target "to eliminate either entirely or at the very least drastically limit" drug trafficking and consumption. This was agreed to by the European Union and the G8 countries, as well as by most South and Central American governments. But in 2008, this target date was pushed back to 2019 on account of poor progress.
Autorin: Rosa Munoz Lima / dfm
Editor: Nancy Isenson