Is Europe’s Cocaine Market Becoming Saturated?

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A new report on European drug markets suggests a significant decline in cocaine use among the continent’s principal consumer countries, which could have consequences for drug trafficking organizations in Latin America. 

Cocaine consumption fell considerably between 2008 and 2013 in many of the European countries with the biggest demand for the illicit drug, according to the annual European Drug Report (pdf), published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

The prevalence of cocaine use among young adults (ages 15-34) in Spain dropped from roughly 5.5 percent in 2008 to just over 3 percent in 2013, according to the report. The United Kingdom (UK) also experienced a fall in consumption during that same period from over 6 percent to slightly more than 4 percent. 

France is the only selected European country that bucked the downward trend, and has seen steadily increasing cocaine usage since the early 2000s. 

Overall trends also indicate the purity of cocaine found in Europe has risen, while prices have fallen slightly, according to the report.

European authorities seized about 63 tons of cocaine in 2013, with Spain accounting for roughly 40 percent of that figure. Cocaine seizures in Europe have remained relatively stable since 2010, the report states.

InSight Crime Analysis

The overall decrease in cocaine consumption in prominent European user nations, along with the increasing purity and declining price of the illicit drug, indicates consumer markets on the continent may be contracting, or at least heading in that direction. This trend would reverse the long-standing expansion of consumer markets for cocaine on the continent. 

A significant decrease in cocaine consumption would likely negatively impact transnational drug trafficking groups based in Latin America. Colombian criminal organizations have responded to Mexican dominance of a saturated US consumer market and higher wholesale prices for cocaine in Europe by taking on a bigger role in the illicit drug trade in Spain. Sources within the Spanish police have told InSight Crime Colombian criminal groups now control cocaine trafficking in the country. 

Several European law enforcement agencies have also noted the growing presence of Mexican drug cartels in Spain and various other parts of the continent

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

But reduced prices and demand for cocaine in Europe would mean less profits for Mexican and Colombian drug trafficking groups operating there. Under this scenario, these groups may consider migrating some of their operations to what appears to be growing cocaine markets in Eastern Europe. However, changing underworld dynamics may complicate matters. The 2014 European Drug Report stated criminal organizations in Eastern Europe have taken advantage of the fragmentation of Mexican and Colombian organized crime by assuming a more prominent role in the region’s illicit drug trade.

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