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HomeE.U."EU Drug Market: Amphetamine" presents the current situation in Europe

“EU Drug Market: Amphetamine” presents the current situation in Europe

Amphetamine is the most widely available synthetic stimulant in Europe. It is a large and stable market worth at least €1.1 billion per year, Europol reports.

In a new analysis published today – “EU Drug Market: Amphetamine” – two EU agencies draw attention to the impact of sophisticated amphetamine production in the EU and the impact of this production on nature.

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) conducted an analysis tracing the supply chain from production and trafficking to distribution and use. The analysis details the amphetamine distribution processes, as well as the materials and criminal structures involved at different stages and levels of the market.

Europe and the Middle East are known as the world’s main producers and consumers of amphetamine. In the Middle East, amphetamine is consumed mainly in the form of “Captagon” tablets, while in Europe it is consumed in the form of powders and pastes. Approximately 10.3 million European adults (15-64 years of age) have used amphetamines in their lifetime, with 2 million in the past year.

Almost all amphetamine consumed by Europeans is produced mainly by the Netherlands and Belgium in large-scale facilities using sophisticated equipment. Production is based on methods utilising an international grade chemical (BIC), which is usually produced in Europe from “designer precursors” imported from China and not subject to restriction.

European amphetamine producers are characterised by innovation and adaptability. Over time, traditional amphetamine production methods have been simplified greatly, allowing for the use of fewer chemicals and equipment, while still producing a similar product with higher profit margins.

Sometimes the consumer product is not finalised in the laboratories where it was synthesised. Instead, amphetamine is exported as base oil and laboratories in other countries convert it into amphetamine sulphate. This raises concerns about the spread of such “conversion laboratories” to other EU countries.

Between 2019 and 2021, 337 sites related to illicit amphetamine manufacture were dismantled in the EU. There is a huge release of chemical waste, which harms the environment due to large-scale amphetamine production. This waste results in high costs for local municipalities and poses risks to human health.

Only a small fraction of the amphetamine produced in the EU is used to manufacture Captagon tablets for consumer markets in the Middle East. This occurs mainly on order in the Netherlands. EU Member States do not report significant use of Captagon as EU drug-related criminal organisations do not appear to be involved in the Captagon trade.

EU countries are mainly transit points between captagon-producing countries outside the EU (Lebanon and Syria) and destination markets in and around the Arabian Peninsula. This analysis raises the question of whether the demand for Captagon tablets in these markets may represent an opportunity for drug manufacturers in EU countries to increase amphetamine production for export.

Criminal networks involved in the illicit distribution of amphetamine are business-oriented. They co-operate and adapt, often utilising each other’s resources and infrastructure or engaging in joint criminal enterprises.

The analysis shows that logistical support is an entire parallel business, with some criminal groups acting as service providers specialising in providing the chemicals, equipment and expertise needed to set up and operate production facilities. Legitimate business structures are often misused to facilitate the production, trafficking and distribution of drugs. When necessary, criminals are also not shy of using violence and corruption to achieve their goals.

Today’s findings are based on data and information from the EMCDDA drug monitoring system and Europol’s intelligence on serious and organised crime. The agencies highlight key areas for action at EU and Member State level, using a threat assessment approach. These include: improving the strategic intelligence picture; investing in capacity building; strengthening policy, health and security measures, enhancing supply reduction and security measures; and intensifying international co-operation.

Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle states:

The market for synthetic drugs runs into the billions of euros each year, and their production is getting more sophisticated. Distribution networks are getting smarter; and the drugs themselves, more harmful. Large amounts of toxic chemical waste generated by chemical synthesis have been released into nature, endangering public health and safety. Europol is constantly monitoring this pernicious threat and providing cutting-edge operational support to investigations in Member States.

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel says:

Amphetamine is the most common synthetic stimulant drug in Europe today. While its market remains relatively stable, we should not underestimate the impact the drug has on the health and security of Europeans. Not only does it affect individuals, but it also impacts communities around and beyond production areas through environmental damage and public health consequences. Europe is a global producer of amphetamine, and for each kilogram of amphetamine produced, almost 40 kilograms of chemical waste can be generated. This in turn is dumped into our soil and water. To tackle these cross-border challenges, it is vital that Member States cooperate, share knowledge, and enhance preparedness.

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