‘Active and resilient’ organised crime groups have been successfully adapting their drug trafficking routes, transportation models and concealment methods during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol. While the pandemic has led to local shortages, higher prices and reduced purity of some drugs, crime groups are continuing to thrive and make ‘huge profits’, it says.
Disruption of the drug supply chain has been seen ‘mostly at the distribution level’, the document states, as lockdown and social distancing measures have made street deals more difficult. While dealers and customers are increasingly turning to encrypted communication apps, social media platforms and the dark web to buy and sell substances, the ‘continued commercial transportation of goods across Europe’ has enabled the ongoing movement of bulk quantities of drugs between countries.
Trafficking via maritime shipping remains at pre-pandemic levels, say the agencies, although there has been ‘marked disruption’ in smuggling via passenger planes, echoing the findings of a recent UNODC report (DDN, June, page 4). Violent incidents related to drug trafficking have also continued during the pandemic, the document says.
‘The economic effect of the crisis is likely to make some in our communities more vulnerable to both drug problems and drug market involvement,’ said EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel. ‘Furthermore, the growth of online dealing and encrypted communication will place greater strains on law enforcement. In the post-pandemic period we are likely to see greater volatility, competition and violence associated with the drug trade. By anticipating these developments now, we will be better prepared to respond quickly and effectively to the new challenges we are likely to face.’