Madrid: A meeting of drug law enforcement officials from around the world gets underway in Madrid on 9 May with the spotlight on the sharp rise in cocaine use in Europe in recent years, especially in Britain and Spain.
“Cocaine is surging in Europe at levels similar to what America experienced in the 1980s,” the head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration, Karen Tandy, on the opening day of the three-day event.
Around 10 million Europeans, or over 3% of all adults, have used cocaine at least once in their lives, a historically high figure, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).
Britain and Spain posted the highest rates of use, with over 4% adults reporting consumption of the drug over the past year as compared to an average of around 1% of adults in all of Europe.
Use is concentrated among young adults, especially men, in urban areas. Also, the supply of cocaine in Europe has increased since the late 1990s leading to lower prices and this, combined with its association to a supposedly glamorous lifestyle, is fueling its growing use.
The price of cocaine on Europe’s streets fell by 22% between 1999 and 2004, according to the Lisbon-based European drugs monitoring centre. The DEA-sponsored International Drug Enforcement Conference brings together over 300 senior drug law enforcement officials from over 80 countries to share intelligence and devise strategies for fighting drug trafficking
Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos urged the European Union to boost its cooperation with South American nations to fight drug trafficking. “Spain has a serious problem regarding rising drug consumption and it is in the interest of us all to cooperate more to fight drug trafficking, which in the case of Colombia is totally linked to guerrilla groups and violence,” he told AFP.
Colombia is the world’s leading producer of cocaine while Spain, with its historical and linguistic ties to Latin America, is the main gateway into Europe for the drug. Roughly 80% of cocaine from Latin America that was destined for markets outside US in 2005 was bound for Europe, according to DEA estimates.
International drug trafficking rings have been drawn to the European market because of the higher prices paid for cocaine on the continent. Last year wholesale prices for cocaine in the EU ranged between $38,000 - 77,000 per kg compared to between $9,000 - 40,000 in US where supply is higher.
To tackle the problem seven EU nations - Britain, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Netherlands have agreed to set up a new body that will share intelligence and coordinate police seizures of cocaine and cannabis on the high seas. It will be established in Lisbon later this year.