Supply and availability
Amphetamine, methamphetamine and ecstasy are synthetic drugs requiring chemical precursors in the manufacturing process. Insights into the production of these substances can be gleaned from reports of seizures of controlled chemicals - diverted from licit trade - that are necessary for their manufacture.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) reports that global seizures of 1-phenyl-2-propanone (P2P, BMK), which can be used for the illicit manufacture of both amphetamine and methamphetamine, decreased from 5 620 litres in 2008 to 4 900 litres in 2009, with China (2 275 litres in 2009) and Russia (1 731 litres in 2009) continuing to report the highest seizures. In the European Union, seizures of P2P increased from 62 litres in 2008 to 635 litres in 2009. World seizures of two key precursors of methamphetamine have also increased in 2009: ephedrine, to 42 tonnes, from 18 tonnes in 2008 and 22.6 tonnes in 2007; and pseudoephedrine, to 7.2 tonnes, from 5.1 tonnes in 2008, though still below the 25 tonnes seized in 2007. EU Member States accounted for about 0.5 tonnes of ephedrine, almost double the amount seized the year before, and for 67 kilograms of pseudoephedrine.
(1) The total amounts of amphetamine, ecstasy and LSD seized in 2009 are likely to be underestimated, largely due to the lack of recent data for the Netherlands, a country
(2) Range of the middle half of the reported data.
|Global quantity seized
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey) (1)
1.9 million tablets
(2.4 million tablets)
59 700 units
(59 700 units)
|Number of seizures
EU and Norway
(Including Croatia and Turkey)
|Mean retail price (EUR)
(Interquartile range) (2)
|Mean purity or MDMA content
(Interquartile range) (2)
Two precursor chemicals are primarily associated with the manufacture of MDMA: 3,4-methylenedioxyphenyl-2-propanone (3,4-MDP2P, PMK) and safrole. The 40 litres of PMK seized in 2009, up from zero in 2008, could suggest that the availability of this substance remains low. This is in contrast to the higher levels recorded in earlier years (8 816 litres in 2006, 2 297 litres in 2007). World seizures of safrole, which may be increasingly replacing PMK in the synthesis of MDMA in Europe, fell to 1 048 litres in 2009 from a peak of 45 986 litres in 2007 (1). All of the PMK and most of the safrole confiscations in 2009 were made in the European Union.
International efforts to prevent the diversion of precursor chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of synthetic drugs are coordinated through 'Project Prism'. The project uses 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, 2011). Another recent initiative by the INCB is the publication of a set of guidelines to assist national governments in establishing voluntary control measures in cooperation with industrial manufacturers of chemicals, with the aim of preventing their diversion for the production of illicit drugs (INCB, 2009).
Global amphetamine production remains concentrated in Europe, which accounted for more than 80 % of all amphetamine laboratories reported in 2009 (UNODC, 2011). In 2009, global seizures of amphetamine increased to about 33 tonnes (see Table 5). Western and central Europe continued to seize large amounts of amphetamine, although the UNODC reported a reduction of 20 % in the quantities seized there compared to 2008, when 7.9 tonnes was seized. The largest increase in amphetamine seizures was reported in Saudia Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Together, the UNODC's Near and Middle East and Southwest Asia region seized about 25 tonnes in 2009, almost all in the form of 'captagon' tablets (UNODC, 2011).
Most amphetamine seized in Europe is produced, in order of importance, in the Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, Bulgaria and Turkey. Europol reports that 19 sites involved in the production, tableting or storage of amphetamine were discovered in the European Union in 2009.
An estimated 34 200 seizures amounting to 5.8 tonnes of amphetamine powder and 3 million amphetamine tablets (2) were made in Europe in 2009 (3). The number of amphetamine seizures has been fluctuating for the last five years, with a decrease reported in 2008 and 2009. While the number of amphetamine tablets confiscated in Europe has decreased sharply over the period 2004-09 due to falling seizures in Turkey, the quantities of amphetamine powder intercepted have remained stable or increased in most European countries (4). However, this assessment is preliminary, as recent data are not available for the Netherlands, which in 2007, the last year for which data are available, reported seizing 2.8 tonnes of amphetamine powder.
The purity of amphetamine samples intercepted in Europe in 2009 continued to vary widely, ranging from less than 8 % in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia, to greater than 20 % in countries where amphetamine production is reported or where consumption levels are relatively high (Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland, Norway) (5). Over the past five years, the purity of amphetamine has fallen in 17 out of the 18 countries reporting sufficient data for trend analysis.
In 2009, the mean retail price of amphetamine ranged between EUR 10 and EUR 23 a gram for over half of the 14 countries providing data. Amphetamine retail prices either decreased or remained stable in all 17 countries reporting data over 2004-09, except in the Netherlands where they increased over the period and Slovenia, which reported a major increase in 2009 (6).
The number of dismantled methamphetamine laboratories reported worldwide increased by 22 % in 2009. As in the previous year, the strongest increase was registered in North America, especially the United States, but reports of clandestine laboratories continued to increase in east and south-east Asia. In addition, increased activity related to methamphetamine production was reported in Latin America and Africa. In 2009, 31 tonnes of methamphetamine was seized, a marked increase from the 22 tonnes seized in 2008. Most of the drug was seized in North America (44 %), where Mexico accounted for an exceptionally high 6.1 tonnes in 2009 (UNODC, 2011).
In Europe, illicit methamphetamine production is concentrated in the Czech Republic, where 342 production sites, mostly small-scale 'kitchen laboratories', were detected in 2009 (down from 434 in 2008). Production of the drug also occurs in Slovakia, where it increased in 2009, as well as in Germany, Lithuania and Poland.
In 2009, almost 7 400 seizures of methamphetamine, amounting to about 600 kg of the drug, were reported in Europe. Both the number of seizures and the quantities of methamphetamine seized increased over 2004-09, with a strong increase between 2008 and 2009. Quantities seized doubled between 2008 and 2009, mainly due to increases in the amounts recovered in Sweden and Norway, the main seizing countries in Europe for this drug, where it might partially replace amphetamine. Turkey reported methamphetamine seizures for the first time in 2009, ranking third in terms of quantities recovered: the relatively large consignments of methamphetamine intercepted in Turkey were reported to be in transit from Iran to east and south-east Asia.
Methamphetamine purity varied greatly in 2009 in the 17 countries reporting data, with mean purities of under 15 % in Bulgaria and Estonia, and over 65 % in the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Croatia. No overall trend in methamphetamine purity can be discerned. The range of retail prices for methamphetamine also varied greatly in 2009, in the six countries reporting it, from about EUR 10 per gram in Bulgaria, Lithuania and Slovenia, to about EUR 70 per gram in Germany and Slovakia.
The reported number of dismantled laboratories producing ecstasy was virtually unchanged at 52 in 2009. Most of these laboratories were situated in Australia (19), Indonesia (18) and Canada (12). Production 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, it is likely that western Europe remains an important location for ecstasy production.
Worldwide, seizures of ecstasy amounted to 5.4 tonnes in 2009 (UNODC, 2011), with the United States reporting 63 % of the total.
The number of ecstasy seizures reported in Europe remained stable between 2004 and 2006, and then declined, while quantities seized in most European countries show a downward trend since 2004. In 2009, about 11 000 ecstasy seizures were reported in Europe, resulting in the interception of over 2.4 million ecstasy tablets. However, this is an underestimate, as recent data are not available for the Netherlands, which reported seizures of 8.4 million tablets in 2007, the last year for which data are available.
The average MDMA content of ecstasy tablets tested in 2009 was between 3 and 108 milligrams in the 18 countries providing data. In addition, the availability of high-dose ecstasy tablets containing over 130 milligrams of MDMA was reported by several countries (Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey). Over the period 2004-09, the MDMA content of ecstasy tablets declined in all 14 countries reporting sufficient data.
Over the last few years, there has been a change in the content of illicit drug tablets in Europe, from a situation where most tablets analysed contained MDMA or another ecstasy-like substance (MDEA, MDA) as the only psychoactive substance, to one where the contents are more diverse, and MDMA-like substances less present. This shift accelerated in 2009, to the extent that the only countries where MDMA-like substances continued to account for a large proportion of the tablets analysed were Italy (58 %), the Netherlands (63 %) and Malta (100 %).
Amphetamines, sometimes in combination with MDMA-like substances, are relatively common in tablets analysed in Greece, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Croatia. Most of the other reporting countries mention that piperazines, and in particular mCPP, were found, alone or in combination with other substances, in a substantial proportion of the tablets analysed.
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 as little as EUR 1, most countries are reporting mean retail prices in the range of EUR 4-9 per tablet. The data available for 2004-09 suggest that the retail price of ecstasy has continued to fall or remained stable across Europe as a whole. In 2009, however, an increase was reported in the Netherlands, which is also the country reporting the lowest prices for the drug.
Hallucinogens and other substances
Use and trafficking of LSD in Europe is considered marginal. The number of LSD seizures increased between 2004 and 2009, while quantities, after a peak in 2005 to 1.8 million units due to record seizures in the United Kingdom, have since been fluctuating at relatively low levels (7). LSD retail prices have remained stable in most reporting countries since 2004, while increases were reported in Belgium and decreases in Latvia, Austria and Croatia. In 2009, the mean price was between EUR 7 and EUR 11 per unit for the majority of the 11 countries reporting data.
Seizures of hallucinogenic mushrooms, ketamine, and GHB and GBL are only reported in 2009 by four or five countries, depending on the drug. The extent to which the reported seizures reflect the use of these substances or the fact that they are not routinely targeted by law enforcement services is not clear.
(1) See the box 'Diversifying the supply of precursors for synthetic drug production in Europe' on this page.
(2) Most (94 %) of the amphetamine tablets intercepted were labelled as captagon, and recovered in Turkey. Captagon is one of the registered trade names for fenetylline, a synthetic central nervous system stimulant. Tablets sold on the illicit drug market as captagon are commonly found to contain amphetamine mixed with caffeine.
(3) This analysis is preliminary, as data for the Netherlands are not yet available for 2008 and 2009.
(4) The data on European drug seizures mentioned in this chapter can be found in Tables SZR-11 to SZR-18 in the 2011 statistical bulletin.
(5) The data on European drug purities mentioned in this chapter can be found in Table PPP-8 in the 2011 statistical bulletin. EU trend indexes can be found in Figure PPP-2 in the 2011 statistical bulletin.
(6) The data on European drug prices mentioned in this chapter can be found in Table PPP-4 in the 2011 statistical bulletin.
(7) This analysis is preliminary, as data for the Netherlands, which reported one-third of the amount of LSD seized in Europe in 2007 are not available for subsequent years.
INCB (International Narcotics Control Board) (2009), Guidelines for a voluntary code of practice for the chemical industry, United Nations, New York.
INCB (2011), Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2010, United Nations, New York.
UNODC (2011), World drug report 2011, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Vienna.