Supply and availability
Synthetic drug precursors
Law enforcement efforts target the controlled chemicals necessary for illicit drug production, and this area is one in which international cooperation is particularly valuable. ‘Project Prism’ is an international initiative to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of synthetic drugs, through a system of pre-export notifications for licit trade and the reporting of shipments stopped and seizures made when suspicious transactions occur. Information on activities in this area is reported to the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB, 2010).
The INCB reports reductions in 2008 in world seizures of two key precursors of methamphetamine; ephedrine with 12.6 tonnes (compared to 22.7 tonnes in 2007 and 10.3 tonnes in 2006), and pseudo-ephedrine with 5.1 tonnes (compared to 25 tonnes in 2007 and 0.7 tonnes in 2006). EU Member States (mainly the Netherlands and the United Kingdom) accounted for 0.3 tonnes of ephedrine, about half the amount seized the year before, and for over 0.5 tonnes of pseudoephedrine, almost all in France.
By contrast, global seizures of 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P2P, BMK), which can be used for the illicit manufacture of both amphetamine and methamphetamine, increased sharply from 834 litres in 2007 to 5 620 litres in 2008. Seizures of P2P in the European Union amounted to 2 757 litres, compared to 773 litres in 2007.
In 2008, there were no reported seizures of 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone (3,4-MDP2P, PMK), used to manufacture MDMA, in contrast to global seizures of 2 297 and 8 816 litres in 2007 and 2006, respectively. World seizures of safrole, which may replace 3,4-MDP2P in the synthesis of MDMA, fell to 1 904 litres from a peak of 45 986 litres in 2007. Most of the safrole confiscations in 2008 were made in the European Union.
|(1) Figures for production are based on estimates of consumption and seizure data.
(2) Only aggregate estimates of amphetamine and methamphetamine global production are available.
(3) Range of the middle half of the reported mean prices.
NB: All data are for 2008; n.a., not available.
Sources: UNODC (2010b) for global values, Reitox national focal points for European data.
|Global production estimate
|Global quantities seized
|Quantity seized (tonnes)
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)
|Number of seizures
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)
|Mean retail price (EUR)
(Interquartile range) (3)
|Range of mean purity or MDMA content||3–34 %||22–80 %||17–95 mg||n.a.|
Global amphetamine production remains concentrated in Europe, which accounted for more than 80 % of all amphetamine laboratories reported in 2008 (UNODC, 2010). Global seizures of amphetamine remained broadly stable in 2008, amounting to about 23 tonnes (see 'Table 4: Production, seizures, price and purity of amphetamine, methamphetamine, ecstasy and LSD'). Of this, over a third was seized in western and central Europe, reflecting Europe’s role as both a major producer and consumer of this drug (UNODC, 2010).
Most amphetamine seized in Europe is produced, in order of importance, in the Netherlands, Poland and Belgium, and to a lesser extent in Estonia, Lithuania and United Kingdom. In 2007, 29 sites involved in the production, tableting or storage of amphetamine were discovered in the European Union and reported to Europol.
In 2008, an estimated 37 500 seizures amounting to 8.3 tonnes of amphetamine powder were made in Europe (1). The number of amphetamine seizures has been fluctuating around a stable trend for the last five years, although compared to 2003 they remained at higher levels, while quantities have increased over 2003–08 (2).
The purity of amphetamine samples intercepted in Europe in 2008 varied widely, and any comment on average values must be made with caution. Nevertheless, mean purity of samples ranged from less than 10 % in Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, Croatia and Turkey, to greater than 25 % in Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway. Over the past five years, the purity of amphetamine has been falling or stable in most of the 17 countries where sufficient data are available to allow analysis of trends (3).
In 2008, the mean retail price of amphetamine ranged between EUR 9 and EUR 20 a gram for over half of the 17 reporting countries. Amphetamine retail prices decreased or remained stable in all 13 countries reporting data over 2003–08, except in Spain where they dropped to a record low in 2008 after increases in previous years (4).
The number of methamphetamine laboratories reported worldwide increased by 29 % in 2008. The strongest increase was registered in North America, but reports of clandestine laboratories also increased in east and south-east Asia. In addition, increased activity related to methamphetamine production was reported in Latin America and Oceania. In 2008, 17.9 tonnes of methamphetamine was seized, continuing a stable trend since 2004. Most of the drug was seized in east and south-east Asia (notably China), followed by North America (UNODC, 2010).
Illicit production of methamphetamine in Europe is largely limited to the Czech Republic, where 458 production sites were detected in 2008 ('Figure 5: Illicit drug facilities dismantled in the European Union as reported to Europol'). This is the highest number of methamphetamine ‘kitchen laboratories’ yet reported by the Czech Republic. Seizures of precursor chemicals also increased in 2008. Production of the drug is also reported in Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.
In 2008, almost 4 700 seizures of methamphetamine, amounting to approximately 300 kg of the drug, were reported in Europe. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of methamphetamine seizures steadily increased. Over the same period, quantities seized increased to a record in 2007 and decreased slightly in 2008, mainly due to a decline in the amount recovered in Norway, the main seizing country in Europe for this drug.
Global production of ecstasy in 2008 is estimated at between 57 and 136 tonnes (UNODC, 2010). The manufacture of the drug appears to have continued to spread geographically, with manufacture occurring closer to consumer markets in east and south-east Asia, North America and Oceania. Despite this, western and central Europe remains the main location for ecstasy production, where it is concentrated in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Worldwide, seizures of ecstasy fell to a very low level in 2008 (2.3 tonnes) (UNODC, 2010). In west and central Europe, reported seizures fell from 1.5 tonnes in 2007, to 0.3 tonnes in 2008.
More than 19 100 seizures were reported in Europe in 2008, resulting in the interception of an estimated 13.7 million ecstasy tablets. However, this is a preliminary assessment as data for 2008 were not available for the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, which reported combined seizures of 18.4 million tablets in 2007.
The number of ecstasy seizures reported in Europe, after a stabilisation between 2003 and 2006, has been slightly declining since then, while quantities seized declined overall between 2003 and 2008 (5).
In Europe, most ecstasy tablets analysed in 2008 contained MDMA or another ecstasy-like substance (MDEA, MDA) as the only psychoactive substance present, with 19 countries reporting that this was the case in over 60 % of all tablets analysed. Seven countries now report lower proportions of ecstasy tablets with MDMA or its analogues (Spain, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Croatia). Some countries report that mCPP, a drug which is not controlled under the international drug conventions, was found in a substantial proportion of the ecstasy tablets analysed (see New drugs and emerging trends).
The typical MDMA content of ecstasy tablets tested in 2008 was between 5 and 72 mg in the 11 countries providing data. In addition, high-dose ecstasy tablets containing over 130 mg of MDMA were reported by several countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Estonia, Latvia, Netherlands, Slovakia, Norway). There are no clear trends in the MDMA content of ecstasy tablets.
Ecstasy is now considerably cheaper than it was in the 1990s, when it first became widely available. While there are some reports of tablets being sold for less than EUR 2, most countries are reporting mean retail prices in the range of EUR 4–10 per tablet. The data available for 2003–08 suggest that the retail price of ecstasy, adjusted for inflation, has continued to fall in Europe.
Use and trafficking of LSD in Europe is still considered marginal. The number of LSD seizures increased between 2003 and 2008, while quantities, after a peak in 2005 due to record seizures in the United Kingdom, have been fluctuating at much lower levels over the period (6). LSD retail prices (adjusted for inflation) remained stable or slightly decreased in eight countries since 2003, while increases were reported in Belgium and Sweden. In 2008, the mean price was between EUR 5 and EUR 12 per unit for the majority of the 13 reporting countries.
(1) This analysis is preliminary, as data for the United Kingdom are not yet available for 2008.
(2) The data on European drug seizures mentioned in this chapter can be found in Tables SZR-11 to SZR-18 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.
(3) The data on European drug purities mentioned in this chapter can be found in Table PPP-8 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.
(4) The data on European drug prices mentioned in this chapter can be found in Table PPP-4 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.
(5) This analysis is preliminary, as data for the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are not yet available for 2008.
(6) This analysis is preliminary, as data for the United Kingdom are not yet available for 2008.
INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) (2010), Precursors and chemicals frequently used in the illicit manufacture of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, United Nations, New York (available online).
UNODC (2010), World drug report 2010, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.