United Kingdom Country Drug Report 2019

Drug markets

The identified drug supply chains to the United Kingdom, on the whole, follow well-established trafficking routes. Heroin originates from Afghanistan and is most commonly brought in via either Pakistan or Iran, or more recently through Ukraine.

The Netherlands and Belgium are the main transit hubs within Europe for cocaine en route to the United Kingdom. Furthermore, the Netherlands and Belgium are the most significant sources of established synthetic stimulant drugs, such as MDMA/ecstasy, amphetamine and methamphetamine, while most non-retail quantities of new psychoactive substances bought online originate from China.

South and West Africa and the Caribbean are the main sources of imported herbal cannabis, while cannabis resin originates mainly from Morocco and, to a lesser extent, Afghanistan. Branded strains of high-potency cannabis are imported from the Netherlands. Cannabis is also cultivated in significant quantities across the United Kingdom, with production being controlled, for the most part, by British organised crime groups. Crack cocaine is converted locally from imported cocaine powder. Amphetamine may also be produced in the United Kingdom, with active laboratories believed to be most commonly located in the north-west of England. Within the United Kingdom, supply chains take many forms, with a varying number of levels between the importer and the user.

Cannabis is the most frequently seized drug in the United Kingdom, followed by cocaine. The long-term trend indicates a marked decrease in the number of cannabis resin seizures in the last decade, while increases in the number of herbal cannabis seizures were reported during 2011/12, with a steady drop thereafter.

The United Kingdom reports seizures of both cocaine powder and crack cocaine, with powder being seized more frequently. There was a marked shortage of heroin in the period 2009-10, but the market gradually recovered and has remained stable since around 2012/13. Nevertheless, the United Kingdom reports some of the highest heroin and cocaine seizures in Europe, both in terms of numbers and quantities seized. The number of MDMA seizures has remained relatively stable since 2010/11, while the quantities seized have increased.

Data on the retail price and purity of the main illicit substances seized are shown in the ‘Key statistics’ section.


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Methodological note: Analysis of trends is based only on those countries providing sufficient data to describe changes over the period specified. The reader should also be aware that monitoring patterns and trends in a hidden and stigmatised behaviour like drug use is both practically and methodologically challenging. For this reason, multiple sources of data are used for the purposes of analysis in this report. Caution is therefore required in interpretation, in particular when countries are compared on any single measure. Detailed information on methodology and caveats and comments on the limitations in the information set available can be found in the EMCDDA Statistical Bulletin.