The Italian peninsula is one of the main drug gateways to Europe owing to its geographical position at the centre of the Mediterranean Sea and its long coastline. The presence of mafia-type organised crime groups makes Italy a key destination country for bulk quantities of illicit drugs and also a key transit country for drugs destined for other European and non-European countries.
The Italian illicit drug market is dominated by large organised crime structures with well-established international links and operating bases in principal drug production and trafficking regions, such as South America, South-East Asia and north-western and south-eastern Europe. The maritime route of illicit drug trafficking is of primary importance for all substances, although drugs are also smuggled into Italy by air and by land from neighbouring countries.
Cocaine traffickers operating in Italy are supplied mostly by the Colombian market. Heroin from Afghanistan reaches Italy mainly via the Balkan route (the southern branch, mostly by sea (ferries), and the central branch, by land). Criminal groups organise cannabis resin shipments (mostly of Moroccan origin) from Spain to Italy either directly or via other European countries; alternative high-quantity maritime routes from Libya, Egypt and Turkey have developed in recent years. Herbal cannabis arrives by land and sea routes that start in Albania. A large proportion of illicit drugs pass through Italy en route to other EU countries. Domestic cannabis cultivation is reported, predominantly in southern Italy. New psychoactive substances (NPS) are usually purchased online and are shipped to the country via postal services.
Cannabis products are the most seized drugs in Italy, followed by cocaine and heroin. Other substances (mainly synthetic drugs) are seized less frequently. In 2017, a sharp increase in herbal cannabis seizures was recorded, almost 10 times more than 2 years before. The quantity of cocaine seized has remained stable over the last few years and the quantity of heroin seized has declined steadily since 2008. The quantities of the synthetic drugs MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine seized remain low.
Data on retail price and purity of the main illicit substances seized are shown in the ‘Key statistics’ section.