The Internet has become both a marketplace and a talking shop for exchanging tips on the manufacture and consumption of narcotics. That is the conclusion of a new report from Europol and the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), which describes the European illicit drug market as "increasingly dynamic and innovative."
EMCDDA analyst Laurent Laniel also says it has become multi-faceted and highly-developed. Cannabis remains the most popular illegal drug. "After that come cocaine and amphetamines, which are also widely available, but consumed in much smaller quantities," he said. "On top of that, there is a significant amount of heroin consumption."
But, most of all, methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth, is expected to be a much bigger problem in the future.
Europe - a major drug producer
Drugs come to Europe from all over the world. "Cocaine is mainly produced in the region of the Andes - in Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru, and then comes here via various smuggling routes through Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil, or Argentina," said Laniel. Heroin, meanwhile, comes to Europe mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.
But often the journey is not nearly as far. "Europe is a major drug producer," said Laniel. "A lot of the drugs that are consumed in Europe are also made in Europe. That is true of amphetamines, methamphetamines, and cannabis. Europe has become one of the largest producers for cannabis, as well as for ecstasy."
Methamphetamines, he added, have been a good example of how a drug spreads from one country, in this case the Czech Republic, to other nations. It is now available everywhere.
Heroin consumption drops
The report also presents the European authority's verdict on individual drugs. Heroin consumption, for example, is on the wane, the report claims, thanks to better security checks along smuggling routes at EU borders and anti-drug programs.
But Heino Stöver, director of the addiction research department at the University of Applied Sciences in Frankfurt, Germany, is not convinced. "Heroin consumption is not dropping because the repressive measures are more effective, but because it does not fit our zeitgeist," he said. Nowadays, heroin is considered a loser's drug, he argues, and is associated with HIV and AIDS.
Amphetamines and methamphetamines are different. "They are drugs that drive up activity, and aren't numbing and sedating like heroin," he said. "They are drugs that fit into our culture, into our competitive, rat-race society." This coincides with Laniel's findings that stimulants, some of which are legally available, are becoming more and more popular.
Is repression the answer?
In the report, Europol and EMCDDA made a number of proposals how to get a grip on the drug trade. Among other things, they found that better cooperation between states was necessary, for example through coordinated police operations. On top of that, access to the raw materials used for drug manufacturing needed to be restricted.
But Stöver has come to the conclusion that making substances available for personal use represents the most effective form of control. He cites the Netherlands, where cannabis is legal. "For the past 30 years, the government there has made cannabis legal as long as it covers personal use," he said. "And cannabis consumption figures in the Netherlands have not risen above those in Germany. On the contrary, they remain lower. Even though it is more readily available, fewer people smoke cannabis there than in Germany."
He believes it will one day be possible "to provide people better education on the dangers and risks of drug consumption, and give up all the repressive measures, at least for personal use."