New analysis reveals highly dynamic and resilient market for new psychoactive substances

2024 EU Drug Markets Analysis from the EMCDDA and EUROPOL

The EU market for new psychoactive substances (NPS) is highly dynamic and resilient, characterised by a high turnover of potent, cheap and available substances. This is according to a new study released today by the EMCDDA and Europol: EU Drug Market: New psychoactive substances.

The analysis describes the European market for NPS, from production and trafficking, to distribution and use, with a comprehensive overview on synthetic cathinones, cannabinoids, opioids and benzodiazepines. It also details the processes, materials and criminal actors involved at different stages and levels of the market.

Although the overall number of NPS appearing for the first time in Europe has declined in recent years, the market remains dynamic, with hundreds of substances monitored each year. In Europe, between 1997 and 2023, EU Member States reported the emergence of more than 960 NPS to the EU Early Warning System. By the end of 2023, around 1 200 NPS had been identified on the global drug markets over the last decade (UNODC).

The report highlights the continued emergence of highly potent substances and new threats, as well as record seizures. In 2022, more than 30.7 tonnes of NPS were seized in Europe. Large seizures of a few substances, notably cathinone stimulants and ketamine, accounted for most of the quantity seized.

Digitalisation has played a large role in facilitating the sale and distribution of NPS. The online availability of these substances poses regulatory challenges, highlighting the need for effective measures to monitor and control online sales.

New psychoactive substances are predominantly shipped to the EU from outside Europe. While China continues to be a major supplier, generic control measures on certain substance groups (such as synthetic cannabinoids and opioids) appear to have prompted a proportion of NPS production to shift to India, which has emerged as a major source.

In Europe, some synthetic cathinone production is also observed, particularly bulk quantities of 3-CMC and 4-CMC. The possibility of production of other substances remains a threat, particularly as few precursors of NPS are currently controlled.

The findings of the report draw on data and information from the EMCDDA’s EU Early Warning System and drug monitoring systems and from Europol’s operational information on serious and organised crime. Taking a threat assessment approach, the agencies highlight key areas for action at EU and Member State level to respond to developments in the NPS market. These include strengthening the capacity of national and EU early warning systems, sharing intelligence, boosting international cooperation, investing in capacity-building, monitoring and disrupting online marketplaces, supporting research into the pharmacology and toxicology of NPS.