Debt crisis bursts Europe's cocaine bubble
By Emilio Rappold Nov 16, 2011, 18:06 GMT
Lisbon - The debt crisis engulfing the eurozone is a surprise blessing for the European Union's drug watchdog - which found in a report this week that economic woes were causing a drop in cocaine consumption on the continent.
'For me it was one of the most surprising results of our recent investigations,' says Wolfgang Goetz, director of the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
The report attributes the downward trend partly to 'the financial burden associated with regular cocaine use' in European countries where austerity programmes are being implemented.
'We know that people have less money in their pockets. Does that mean there is less drug use? Or will there be more prostitution and crime to finance (drug) consumption? It is very difficult to say.'
The average retail price of a gramme of cocaine, which is the most popular illegal drug in Europe, ranges between 50 and 80 euros (67.5 and 108 dollars).
'We have five European countries where consumption is relatively high and on about the same level as in the United States,' Goetz explains. 'They are Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland.'
'In four of these countries - all except Ireland - where investigations are only now being carried out - consumption is going down. It could be that the cocaine bubble has burst,' the EMCDDA director says.
In Britain, for instance, cocaine use grew sixfold between 1994 and 2009. About 6 per cent of Britons aged between 15 and 34 years had consumed cocaine in 2009. But the figure fell below 5 per cent the following year.
In Spain, which has record unemployment and a stagnant economy, the percentage of young cocaine users plunged from 5.5 per cent in 2009 to below 4.5 per cent in 2010.
But the drop in consumption levels could also be a result of increased awareness of the dangers associated with cocaine use. Cocaine users are often binge drinkers. About 1,000 cocaine-linked deaths are reported annually in Europe.
The amount of cocaine intercepted in Europe peaked in 2006 and then halved to about 49 tons by 2009.
The EMCDDA also found that cocaine and more traditional drugs such as cannabis are making way for synthetic drugs, a worrying trend for the watchdog.
European law enforcement agency are fighting drug traffickers who are constantly inventing new ways to smuggle Latin American cocaine to Europe.
Jeans, for instance, are being impregnated with liquid cocaine. Bee wax and manure have also been used to transport the drug.
Anti-drug cooperation within the EU, however, is proving effective, said Goetz, whose agency faces the threat of budget cuts.