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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 13 March 2013

A growing EU illicit drugs market shows the impact of the crisis

The economic crisis is expected to have a major impact on the drugs market, for example through an increase of demand for illicit drugs, according to the findings of a study published today by the European Commission. Today's study reveals that more young people are expected to sell or even produce drugs – especially home grown cannabis – to make money. But the economic crisis is also expected to lead to cuts in budgets devoted to drug policy, in particular for treatment and harm reduction measures.

"Today's study is a wake-up call for Europe: to cut drug supply and to clamp down on trafficking, we need to reduce the number of drug users, through prevention, but also through treatment," said Vice-President Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. "Supply is following demand and with more and more drug users, the illicit drugs market is growing. This is why I intend to propose stronger legislation on new psychoactive substances and on illicit drug trafficking later this year. We need to act at EU level and protect our children."

According to the EMCDDA, new psychoactive substances are an increasing problem. A total of 49 new psychoactive substances were officially notified for the first time in 2011 via the EU early-warning system. This represents the largest number of substances ever reported in a single year, up from 41 substances reported in 2010 and 24 in 2009. And preliminary data for 2012 show no signs of a decline, with over 50 already detected.

While the use of ‘traditional drugs’ such as cocaine, heroin and ecstasy, is generally stable, new drugs are supplying the illicit drug market, as traders take advantage of internationally unregulated chemicals. These drugs are increasingly available over the internet and have rapidly spread in many Member States, which face difficulties in preventing their sale.

More new drugs are entering the market. Over the past two years, one new substance has emerged every week. Member States cannot stop the spread of drugs alone: clampdowns at national level may simply force criminals to move drug production to neighbouring countries or to shift trafficking routes.

In January the Commission proposed an EU-wide ban on amphetamine-like drug '4-MA' (see IP/13/75), after successfully banning the ecstasy-like drug mephedrone in 2010 (see MEMO/10/646). On 25 October 2011, the European Commission announced an overhaul of the EU rules to fight illicit drugs, particularly new psychoactive substances, which imitate the effects of dangerous drugs like ecstasy or cocaine and are a growing problem (IP/11/1236). A legislative proposal is expected during 2013.

Today's study also offers insights into the impact of policies targeting drug use or drug supply and into the operations of the EU's illicit drugs market, revealing that the internet is becoming more and more important for distributing drugs. It also provides a detailed analysis of the size of the market for certain illicit drugs and evaluates the profit that they generate. It estimates the size of the EU cannabis market, the drug most used by Europeans, at between €7 billion to €10 billion for 2010. Intensive users are a small fraction of cannabis users (between 5% and 25%, depending on the country), but are responsible for the bulk (between 55% and 77%) of the total amount of cannabis consumed annually. It also confirms that enforcing laws against the production and distribution of cannabis dramatically increases the price of this drug. This is because producers and traffickers require compensation for their risk of arrest, incarceration, seizure, and violent injury as well as for the costs associated with the need to operate covertly.


This study is a follow-up to an earlier European Commission study, which presented an analysis of the developments of the global illicit drug markets, the drug problems and drug policy responses in the period 1998-2007.

Work was commissioned by Trimbos Institute and Rand Europe and financed under the Programme Prevention of and Fight against Crime (ISEC) programme. ISEC has a budget of EUR 600 million for the period 2007–13 and contributes to citizens’ security through projects that prevent and combat crime.

Drugs policy is largely the responsibility of the EU national authorities, which are best placed to make those choices that best suit the local culture and socio-economic conditions. But, on their own, EU countries are unable to tackle the drugs problem effectively. The Commission thus plays a central role in coordinating measures to reduce the use of illicit drugs and combating drug trafficking.

The EU's response to drugs is set out in the EU Drugs Strategy 2005-2012, EU Drugs Strategy 2013-2020 and the EU Drugs Action Plan which covers the period 2009-2012.

Further information

Report: Further insights into aspects of the EU illicit drugs market:

European Commission – Drug control policy:

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

Contacts :

Mina Andreeva (+32 2 299 13 82)

Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)

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