Cocaine — Introduction (EU Drug Markets Report)

Introduction

Cocaine is Europe’s most commonly used illicit stimulant drug, but most consumption is found in the south and west of Europe. Cocaine is used in two main forms (see box). Cocaine powder is primarily sniffed or snorted, but is also sometimes injected, while crack cocaine is usually smoked. Most use is of cocaine powder and is comparatively infrequent, but a small proportion use more frequently and may experience problems. There are also a few countries in which there are small groups of people who use crack cocaine in a more harmful way, often in conjunction with heroin use.

Most recent survey data suggest that in several countries rates of cocaine use may have stabilised or started to decline. These patterns are also reflected in data on people entering treatment; the number of treatment entrants for cocaine has stabilised at a level significantly below the peak in 2008.

The health harms associated with regular cocaine use include dependence, heart and mental health problems, and a heightened risk of accidents. Harms may be exacerbated when cocaine is used in conjunction with alcohol. Cocaine injection and the use of crack cocaine are associated with the greatest health risks. Although deaths associated with cocaine are likely to be underestimated, for example being attributed to heart conditions, over 800 deaths associated with cocaine use were reported in 2013. Most of these were attributed to drug overdose, with other substances also being detected in many cases, primarily opioids.

Cocaine is trafficked to Europe from the producer countries of South America by both air and sea using a range of methods and routes. The most common appear to involve transit through the Caribbean or West Africa, including the islands off the coast of West Africa. Trafficking of cocaine into Europe appears to mainly take place through western and southern countries, with Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy together estimated to account for over 80 % of the 61.6 tonnes seized in the EU in 2014. 

Table 5.1
 

#table 5.1#

Notes:

  1. EU estimates are computed from national estimates weighted by the population of the relevant age group in each country. They are based on surveys conducted between 2004 and 2014/15 and therefore do not refer to a single year.
  2. Drug users entering treatment for cocaine problems. Units coverage may vary across countries.
  3. The 2014 figures should be considered as estimates; where not available, most recent data were used in place of 2014, except for the number of seizures for the Netherlands, France and Poland where no recent data is available so they are not included. An additional 4.2 kg of coca paste (26 seizures), 35 kg of coca leaves (33 seizures) and 70 kg of crack (5 600 seizures) were seized in the EU, in 2014.
  4. IQR: interquartile range, or range of the middle half of the reported data. 

Data presented are for the EU unless stated otherwise. All trend lines shown in this table cover a 5-year period, 2010–14. All trends reflect absolute numbers except for trends on price and on potency which reflect averages of mean values. In the case of treatment, price and purity, trends are based only on data from those EU countries that have consistently submitted data since 2010. 

Source: EMCDDA/Reitox national focal points. 

Cocaine

Cocaine is a natural product extracted from the leaves of Erythroxylum coca Lamarck and Erythroxylum novogranatense (coca leaves). These tropical shrubs are cultivated widely in the Andean–Amazonian region, and are the only known natural source of cocaine (1), which is produced almost exclusively in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru.

In Europe, cocaine is available in two forms, the more common of which is cocaine powder (a hydrochloride (HCl) salt). Less commonly available is crack cocaine,
a smokeable (free base) form of the drug. The crack cocaine available in Europe is typically manufactured from cocaine hydrochloride near where it is retailed and used and, therefore, cocaine in crack form generates very little cross-border or long-distance trafficking. 

(1) It is possible to obtain synthetic cocaine through various methods, but this is rare and is less economical than the extraction of the natural product. 

Short title: 
Introduction