The COVID-19 pandemic has had an overwhelming impact on every aspect of our lives, including drug use and supply, as is recognised by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) in its annual Drug Report. Like any other sector, the drug market has faced its setbacks due to the coronavirus. Nonetheless, users and dealers got creative to obviate those restrictions, leaving the European Union with some serious threats.
In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak the EMCDDA and Europol noted that local drug markets and their supply were disrupted, resulting in higher prices. However, markets restored themselves as soon as social distancing measures were loosened. Meanwhile, there was an increase in online sales on the darknet, a trend which the EMCDDA considers likely to persist.
Higher risks for drug users
On top of the deals also drug trafficking became harder due to health restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus. Crime groups depended completely on exploiting the transportation of commercial goods, mostly in shipping containers, as using couriers on commercial airlines was impossible. In the end, the production of drugs was the only station in the supply chain that did not suffer due to the pandemic, although instability caused by health restrictions incited violence along the whole of the supply chain.
Drug sales continued during the pandemic, although those of substances that are mostly used in social settings, like MDMA and cocaine, declined. A fortunate trend, as the EMCDDA warns drug users for their higher risk of transmitting the coronavirus, by sharing joints or cocaine straws. More alarmingly, drug users are more likely to have weaker immune systems and respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, which, in combination with a COVID-19 infection, could be lethal.
Distracted law enforcement
On a positive note, more drug users sought professional help, presumably as a result of disruptions of their local markets. Nevertheless, also this medal had its downside, as this raised the pressure on services that were already taking measures to reduce the pandemics impact on their clients.
It is the clear the pandemic has burdened Europe with some new challenges in the war on drugs, ranging from constraining darknet deals to providing sufficient help for drug addicts. Unfortunately these challenges appear when most law enforcement officers are assigned to inspect health measures, which might be exploited by crime groups, fears the EMCDDA.
RESEARCH | ARTICLE © Yorben Geerinckx, Senne Croonen and Seppe Frans PHOTO © Seppe Frans, AP University College, Antwerp, Belgium
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