Consumer market for cocaine in Europe (EU Drug Markets Report)

Consumer market for cocaine in Europe

Extent and nature of cocaine use

In general, among users of cocaine a broad distinction can be made between more socially integrated consumers, who often sniff powder cocaine in a recreational context, and marginalised users, who inject cocaine or smoke crack, often alongside the use of opioids.

It is estimated that, in the EU in 2014, 1 % of the general population and about 2 % of young adults used cocaine in the last year. This equates to about 3.6 million adults aged 15–64, including about 2.4 million aged 15–34. However, the vast majority consume the drug only rarely; even in surveys that focus on drug users, no more than 10 % of respondents report using once a week or more (Frijns and van Laar, 2013; Winstock, 2015). Most cocaine users consume the drug recreationally, with use highest during weekends and holidays (EMCDDA, 2015c).

There are also considerable differences between countries in the prevalence of cocaine use; in some countries amphetamines dominate the stimulant market and cocaine use is low. Only a few countries report last-year prevalence of cocaine use among young adults of more than 3 %, and in the two most prominent, the United Kingdom and Spain, the rates have been stable or decreasing in recent years.

The prevalence of problematic forms of cocaine use in Europe is difficult to gauge as only five countries have recent estimates and, for methodological reasons, these are not easy to compare. The limited figures available suggest that in those countries with higher rates of cocaine use the proportion of adults experiencing problems from cocaine use is in the region of between 2 and 6 per 1 000 of the population.

Cocaine was cited as the primary drug for 13 % of all those entering drug treatment in 2014 (60 000), with the majority being reported by only three countries (Spain, Italy, United Kingdom). The number of cocaine clients entering treatment for the first time has now stabilised and was 29 000 in 2014, substantially below the peak in 2008. Far fewer clients entering treatment in Europe reported crack cocaine as the main drug they use (5 500 in 2014), with the United Kingdom accounting for more than half of these, and Spain, France and the Netherlands accounting for most of the remainder. 

The size of the market for cocaine

The estimated value of the retail market for cocaine in the EU is at least EUR 5.7 billion (range EUR 4.5–7 billion). This represents a little less than one-quarter of the total illicit market in drugs and makes it the third largest, after cannabis and heroin. Our estimates of amounts used suggest that in 2013 about 91 tonnes of cocaine was consumed, with a likely range of 72 to 110 tonnes.

In reaching these estimates we have used information on numbers of cocaine powder users from the general population surveys conducted in most countries but, recognising that some groups of drug users are unlikely to be represented in these surveys, we have supplemented these with estimates of cocaine use by problem users in the few countries in which these exist. However, this almost certainly underestimates problem use, especially as, because of a paucity of data about numbers of users and use patterns, no attempt was made to undertake estimates of crack use. There are a number of other limitations to these estimates (see box 'The challenge of estimating the size of the illicit drug market') and further details of the estimation methods are given in the technical report published alongside this report (EMCDDA, 2016a).