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Case Studies

Drug trade during Covid-19 lockdown

During the Covid-19 lockdown, organised crime groups have adapted quickly, such as by concealment of contraband shipments in medical equipment and products used to combat the pandemic, it’s reported.

OCGs remain active and resilient, according to a report on drug markets, by the European Union’s drugs agency (EMCDDA) and the EU’s policing agency Europol. The report points to reduced purity for some drugs, and continued violence among suppliers and distributors. Drug trafficking remains the largest criminal market in the EU.

For example, due to disruption to the cannabis resin supply chain from Morocco into the EU, and stockpiling of herbal cannabis by consumers, there are some cannabis shortages. Demand for synthetic drugs used in recreational settings (such as pubs and clubs) has gone down.

As for the outlook, if fewer people are travelling by air – including those carrying illegal drugs – OCGs may place greater reliance on post and parcel services for drug distribution, the report suggests. Cash-rich criminal organisations may take control of financially troubled legitimate businesses to further their activities, the report warns.

While social distancing has meant few face-to-face street deals, consumers and dealers are increasingly turning to other methods, such as darknet markets, social media platforms and encrypted communication apps, with cashless payments.

Drug trafficking by maritime shipping continues at levels similar to the pre-pandemic period, although there has been a marked disruption in smuggling by air passenger transport. Cocaine trafficking via maritime shipping containers continues at levels comparable to 2019.

Europol Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said: “The pandemic has had a major impact on our lives and is slowing down our economy. However, this economic trend has not been seen in international drug trafficking. These illegal markets continue to generate huge profits, including during the pandemic. Seizures of illegal drugs in some EU countries during the first half of 2020 have been higher than in the same months of previous years. More than ever, these findings should motivate us to ensure that any recovery from the pandemic is accompanied by a strong and effective international law enforcement response. We need to establish that drug traffickers do not benefit from the potential social and economic consequences of the current crisis.”

For the 31-page report visit or the EMCDDA website.

Picture by Mark Rowe; on-street drug deal, winter weekday afternoon, East Ham, east London.


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