Drug-related health and security threats in the Western Balkans are highlighted today in a new report published by the EU drugs agency (EMCDDA). Released in the framework of the agency’s latest Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance project (IPA7), funded by the EU, the report provides the latest picture of the drug situation in the region (1).
The report offers a top-level analysis of drug markets, their drivers, facilitators and consequences, as well as an overview of drug policy and the law, drug use, harms and responses. It concludes with a regional overview of each of the major drug types, focusing on use, production and trafficking. Additional challenges, such as corruption, violence and the internationalisation of organised crime networks are also considered.
The findings are based on EMCDDA data collected through structured questionnaires and complemented by information from studies, focus groups and scientific literature. It appears that drug-related information is overall relatively limited in the region, although this varies, to some extent, between the partners concerned.
EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel says: ‘We are delighted to launch today our new regional analysis of drug-related health and security threats in the Western Balkans. The report explores drug policy developments, emerging patterns of drug use and drug market trends, providing a strategic overview of the drug situation in the region and how this impacts on the European Union. Despite current data limitations, it offers valuable insights by bringing together information from multiple sources. I take this opportunity to encourage our Western Balkan partners to intensify their efforts to adapt their drug information systems to EU standards. We look forward to further cooperation in future and will continue to support them, in this area, on their journey towards EU accession.’
The report presents a summary of ‘key findings’, including:
- Available data show that overall drug use in the region appears to be lower than in the neighbouring EU, although notable differences in patterns of use can be observed between the Western Balkan partners. There is an ongoing need to better monitor harms associated with opioid and cocaine use in the region, as evidence suggests that use of these substances is evolving in ways that could have important implications in future.
- Harm reduction services operate in all of the partners, but the provision of interventions appears to be generally insufficient and is often dependent on international funding. Data point to an overarching need in the region to increase the provision of treatment and other services for people with drug problems. In particular, responses targeting harmful patterns of use for non-opioid drugs appear to be currently underdeveloped, while, at the same time, demand for such responses may be growing.
- Western Balkan criminal networks appear to have become key actors in both the regional and EU drug markets. This partly reflects the geographical position of the Western Balkans, which lie at the intersection of a number of major drug trafficking routes (e.g. Balkan route for heroin), but also, potentially, some emerging routes for other drugs, including cocaine. These criminal networks have a significant impact on security, governance and the rule of law in the region.
- Some criminal networks from the Western Balkans have adopted a new business model of direct involvement in cannabis production within the EU. Their presence in a number of EU countries, primarily associated with indoor production facilities, has been noted. Patterns of cannabis cultivation in the region are shifting and diversifying. Significantly less cannabis is cultivated outdoors in Albania than in the past, while large-scale cannabis cultivation sites have been recorded in other parts of the Western Balkan region.
- Violence associated with competition for drug markets and control of trafficking routes is a significant security threat. A number of homicides in the EU and elsewhere have been linked to Western Balkan criminal networks involved in the drug trade, particularly the cocaine business.
Also today: the EMCDDA is publishing updated national drug situation overviews for North Macedonia and Serbia. These reports are the result of an 8-month online capacity-building exercise, organised with the support of the Austrian Reitox national focal point.