The restrictions caused by Covid-19, and in particular the lockdown, has forced the illicit drugs traffic to discover new methods which could present problems for law enforcement, according to the new Drugs Report 2020 issued by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
In normal circumstances, the annual report would give a run-down of the drugs situation in Europe in 2019. But as the report points out, we are now living in ‘a new normal’, and the report has been updated to take account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic came at a time when Europe’s drugs situation was mainly characterised by large seizures of cocaine, cannabis and heroin shipped by sea, along with an increase in the purity and market penetration of cocaine, and an increase in the volume and diversity of drugs being produced within Europe.
When the coronavirus arrived, many drugs services had to close or severely restrict their services, turning later to new strategies like telemedicine. At the same time, lockdown measures forced dealers to find new ways of operating, among them using messaging apps to order drugs, payment apps to receive payment and covert home deliveries under the guise of food takeaway to essentially take the traffic off the streets.
With smuggling by air transport virtually impossible, organised crime turned to maritime transport – a development that is likely to be permanent and present a problem for law enforcement in the future, as even the increased volume of seizures by this route can only ever represent a small part of the traffic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immediate, disruptive impact on drug use, retail supply and services, and has highlighted the special needs of people who use drugs,” commented EMCDDA director Alexis Goosdeel.
“While the long-term impact of the pandemic remains to be assessed, in the short-term we are already noting changes, such as greater interest in the use of digital technologies in the drug market and innovation in drug treatment through e- and m-health solutions.”
There is a danger, however, that the economic repercussions of the crisis could lead to people becoming more vulnerable to drugs problems.
“It is essential therefore that we act rapidly to identify and address new threats that may emerge from this fast-evolving situation,” he said.