Drug supply, production and precursors – the current situation in Europe (European Drug Report 2023)

Cover of the European Drug Report 2023 drug supply, production, precursors

An analysis of the supply-related indicators available on the commonly used illicit drugs in the European Union suggests that availability remains high across all substance types. On this page, you can find an overview of drug supply in Europe based on the latest data, supported by the latest time trends in drug seizures and drug law offences, together with 2021 data on drug production and precursor seizures.

This page is part of the European Drug Report 2023, the EMCDDA's annual overview of the drug situation in Europe.

Last update: 16 June 2023

Increased public health, social and environmental risks from diversifying synthetic drug production

An analysis of the supply-related indicators available on the commonly used illicit drugs in the European Union suggests that availability remains high across all substance types. In addition, the market is now characterised by the relatively widespread availability of a broader range of drugs, which are often available at high potency or purity. These include new or more-novel substances, where both consumer and scientific knowledge about the health risks may be limited. There is also a growing diversity in the forms in which substances may be available on the market and, in some cases, the routes of administration by which they may be consumed. Taken as a whole, these developments increase concerns that there is a potential for the greater use of illicit substances overall, and that the risks associated with some substances may be growing. In particular, there are worries that people who use drugs may be at greater risk of adverse health outcomes, including poisonings and deaths, through consuming, possibly unknowingly, higher-potency or more-novel substances.

Globalisation in the operational methods used by organised crime groups appears to be an important facilitator of high drug availability in Europe. There is evidence of a closer involvement of European drug producers and traffickers with international criminal networks, resulting in more resilience in the flows of illicit drugs into and out of the European Union. Various countries in South America, West and South Asia and North Africa remain important source areas for illicit drugs entering Europe, while China and India remain important source countries for new psychoactive substances, with India’s role possibly becoming more important for some substances. Drug precursors and related chemicals are also often reported to be sourced from China.

Large seizures of drugs in intermodal shipping containers have continued to be detected in the last few years, suggesting that this form of trafficking was not seriously disrupted during the pandemic period. Elsewhere, there is evidence that the market has largely adapted to any disruption caused by measures introduced during the pandemic and possibly also resulting from the current war in Ukraine. A common concern is that drug trafficking operations increasingly target legitimate commercial infrastructure involved in global trade, with documented attempts to infiltrate supply chains and to exploit key staff either through intimidation or corrupt practices. This is reflected in the increased importance given to targeting of this threat by law enforcement agencies. More generally, and particularly in countries where large volumes of drugs are known to enter or be produced in Europe, there is a growing recognition among policymakers and the public that countering the violence and corrupt practices associated with drug market operations is an issue of growing importance.

The scale and complexity of illicit drug production within Europe continues to grow, and Europe remains a production region for cannabis and synthetic drugs; cannabis production is generally for European consumption, while synthetic drugs are also manufactured for non-EU markets. In 2021, a total of 434 illicit synthetic drug production laboratories, including some large-scale facilities, were dismantled in the European Union. A review of these production sites not only revealed the considerable capacity existing for synthetic drug production in Europe but also the growing diversification of production processes used for some drugs. Compared with 2020, in 2021 the number of laboratories dismantled for producing cocaine and methamphetamine increased, remained stable for amphetamine, while a slight decline was seen for synthetic cathinones sites. The detection of MDMA sites also decreased by a quarter, possibly reflecting a move towards the production of other synthetic substances. However, these data must be interpreted with caution, both because of the possible impact of the pandemic on police actions and reporting and because the relative efficiency of law enforcement in detecting production sites may be influenced by many factors. The detection of separate facilities for cocaine production, extraction, cutting and packaging does suggest, however, that cocaine production is now well-established in Europe and that more-innovative methods are being used to facilitate the entry of this drug into Europe.

Innovation in production processes is also evident from some recent seizures of chemicals that can be used to manufacture the precursor chemicals needed to produce amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA and thus circumvent the controls in place to reduce the availability of these drugs. Examples also exist of the trafficking of chemically masked synthetic cathinone derivatives that are intended for post-import conversion into cathinones suitable for sale in the European Union.

While not common, combination laboratories or multiple-drug production sites also continued to be detected between 2017 and 2020. These are usually found to be producing a number of different stimulant drugs, such as amphetamine or MDMA with methamphetamine, in the same location. Interestingly, more EU Member States reported dismantling methamphetamine production sites in 2021 and seizing precursors for its production, adding to fears that the availability of this drug may be diffusing to more countries. It should be noted that methamphetamine production is often destined for export to lucrative markets outside the European Union. Increased laboratory detections and precursor seizures suggest that Poland is likely to be an important location for synthetic cathinone production in Europe. It remains unclear to what extent this production is for European markets or export to non-European countries.

The use of a wider set of chemicals to create both new substances and different synthesis processes for more established drugs presents a complex challenge for customs, law enforcement and legal regulation. Illicit synthetic drug production within the European Union for export and local markets remains a source of risks to public health, both to people consuming the potentially hazardous substances and from the environmental damage their production can have locally. As essential logistical supply chains are a key target for infiltration by organised crime groups, attempts to corrupt the workers and officials are becoming a more important component of the negative effects of illicit drugs markets on communities through their associated violence and corrupt practices.

Key data and trends

Drug supply trends

  • Indexed trends, overall, show that the quantities of all drugs seized in the European Union increased between 2011 and 2021, particularly in the past 5 years, although there has been some fluctuation in the quantities of amphetamine and methamphetamine seized in the last 3 years.

  • Between 2011 and 2021, the largest increases have been for cocaine (+416 %), herbal cannabis (+260 %), methamphetamine (+135 %), heroin (+126 %), MDMA (+123 %), cannabis resin (+77 %) and amphetamine (+42 %). Sizeable consumer markets for these drugs exist in Europe, however, it is likely that increases in quantities seized reflect, at least partially, the larger role played by Europe as a place of production, export and transit for these drugs.

  • Interpreting trends in drug seizures is complicated by the fact that they are influenced by policing and law enforcement strategies and priorities, the success or otherwise of trafficking groups to avoid detection, and any underlying change in availability and use.

  • Around 1 million seizures were reported in 2021 in the European Union, with cannabis products being the most frequently seized, accounting for three quarters of the number of all seizures.

  • In terms of numbers, fewer seizures were made in 2021 than in 2011 of cannabis resin (−37 %), herbal cannabis (−6 %), cocaine (−3 %), amphetamine (−18 %) and heroin (−40 %). This may reflect changes in policing practices as opposed to changes in consumption patterns or drug availability.

  • The largest increases observed in the number of seizures between 2011 and 2021 were for methamphetamine (+121 %) and MDMA (+42 %).

Figure. Drug seizures in the European Union — number of reported drug seizures, breakdown by drug, 2021 (%)
Figure. Drug seizures in the European Union — number of drug seizures, indexed trends (2011 = 100)

The indexed trends presented reflect relative changes in drug seizures over a 10-year period but give no indication of the actual amounts.

Figure. Drug seizures in the European Union — quantity of drugs seized, indexed trends (2011 = 100)

The indexed trends presented reflect relative changes in drug seizures over a 10-year period but give no indication of the actual amounts.

Figure. Drug seizures in the European Union — number of seizures in 2021
Figure. Drug seizures in the European Union — quantity seized in 2021 (tonnes)

MDMA tablets were converted to mass-equivalents by assuming a mass of 0.25 grams MDMA per tablet.

Drug law offences trends

  • In 2021, an estimated 1.5 million drug law offences were reported in the European Union, an increase of 24 % since 2011. More than three quarters of these offences (77 % or 1.1 million) relate to use or possession for personal use.

  • Of the estimated 1.5 million drug law offences, the drug mentioned in the offence is reported in just under 1 million offences, of which 746 000 were for possession or use, 180 000 were for supply-related offences and 11 600 were for other types of offence. Definitions of what constitutes a supply-related offence may vary between countries.

  • With approximately 566 000 reported offences in 2021, cannabis accounted for more than three quarters of the use or possession offences (76 %), for which the drug is known, and just over half or 100 000 of the drug supply offences (55 %). The predominance of cannabis in both supply and possession offences reflects the drug’s leading position among illicit substances; it also attests to the policy importance of this drug.

  • Drug supply offences remain at higher levels than in 2011 for all drugs except heroin.

Figure. Drug law offences — possession/use offences, indexed trends (2011 = 100)

Data for offences for which the drug involved has been reported.

Figure. Drug law offences — supply offences, indexed trends (2011 = 100)

Data for offences for which the drug involved has been reported.

Figure. Drug law offences — number of offences, supply and use/possession

Data for offences for which the drug involved has been reported.

EU production and precursors data for 2021

  • Cannabis: EU Member States reported 11 600 seizures, amounting to 4.3 million plants and 32.5 tonnes in 2021 (2.8 million plants and 50 tonnes in 2020).

  • Heroin: Three heroin production sites were dismantled in the European Union (Netherlands) in 2021 (4 in 2020). Four seizures of the heroin precursor chemical acetic anhydride, amounting to 5 730 litres (5 110 litres in 2020), were reported by Belgium, Latvia and the Netherlands.

  • Cocaine: In 2021, EU countries reported dismantling 34 cocaine laboratories (23 in 2020). Spain reported dismantling 16 cocaine laboratories, Belgium reported 11 sites related to cocaine processing, and the Netherlands dismantled 7 cocaine secondary extraction laboratories (some of which were large-scale sites). Furthermore, 14 cutting or packaging locations were discovered in the Netherlands. Some large seizures of the precursor chemical potassium permanganate in the Netherlands (637 kilograms, in two seizures) and Belgium (387 kilograms, in two seizures) confirm that large-scale cocaine production steps take place in the European Union.

  • In 2021, seven EU Member States reported dismantling 105 amphetamine laboratories (102 in 2020): Germany (35), the Netherlands (32), Poland (25), Belgium, Bulgaria and Spain (4), and Sweden (1). In Germany and Poland, the sites included conversion laboratories where amphetamine oil was processed into powder (28 and 15 sites respectively). According to German authorities, the oil in conversion laboratories typically comes from the Netherlands.

  • Methamphetamine: Twelve EU Member States reported dismantling 261 methamphetamine laboratories (213 in 2020), including multiple medium- and large-scale facilities in Belgium (9) and the Netherlands (15). In Czechia, 188 mostly small- to medium-scale methamphetamine laboratories were detected in 2021 (182 in 2020). Seizures of the precursors ephedrine and pseudoephedrine amounting to 723 kilograms (both powders and tablets) were reported by 15 EU Member States in 2021 (955 kilograms by 12 EU Member States in 2020).

  • In addition, 5 100 litres of BMK (4 750 litres in 2020) and 4.5 tonnes of MAMDPA, used to make PMK, for MDMA manufacture, and 9.7 tonnes of MAPA, used to make BMK, for amphetamine or methamphetamine manufacture, were seized in the European Union in 2021.

  • MDMA: The Netherlands reported 12 MDMA laboratories in 2021 (21 in 2020), with Belgium reporting 2 and France 1. MDMA tableting sites were reported by Poland (2) and Spain (1). Seizures of MDMA precursors increased to 2.5 tonnes in 2021, from 2 tonnes in 2020.

  • Cathinones: In 2021, 15 synthetic cathinone production sites were dismantled (18 in 2020), 14 in Poland and 1 in the Netherlands, including some large-scale sites. At the site of the MDMA laboratory found in France in 2021, 3-methylmethcathinone (3-MMC) was also being processed. Seizures of synthetic cathinone precursors amounted to 555 kilograms in 2021, of which more than half was seized in Poland (311 kilograms).

  • In 2019, Dutch police seized 350 kilograms of the uncontrolled 3-MMC chemical analogue N-acetyl-3-MMC, of Indian origin, likely intended for post-import conversion to the controlled drug 3-MMC.

  • Other drugs: The Netherlands reported the dismantling of one ketamine laboratory.

  • Dumping sites: In 2021, a total of 228 dumping sites for drug production waste and equipment (195 in 2020) were reported by Belgium (24) and the Netherlands (204).

Summary of seizures of EU scheduled precursors and non-scheduled chemicals used for selected drugs produced in the European Union, 2021
Table. Precursors associated with MDMA production
Substance Quantity seized
Glycidic derivatives of PMK (kilograms) 1577
Piperonal (kilograms) < 1
PMK (litres) 895
Safrole (litres) 2
Table. Precursors associated with amphetamine and methamphetamine production
Substance Quantity seized
APAA (kilograms) 50
APAAN (kilograms)  
Benzaldehyde (kilograms) 11
Benzylcyanide (kilograms) 2006
Glycidic derivatives of BMK (kilograms) 737
MAMDPA (kilograms) 4464
MAPA (kilograms) 9650
BMK (litres) 5098
EAPA (litres) 86
AIBN (kilograms) 89
Tartaric acid (kilograms) 4537
Table. Precursors associated with heroin production
Substance Quantity seized
Acetic anhydride (litres) 5731
Table. Precursors associated with production of fentanyl and fentanyl derivatives
Substance Quantity seized
Table. Precursors associated with cathinones production
Substance Quantity seized
2-Bromo-4-chloropropiophenone (kilograms) 20
2-Bromo-4-methoxypropiophenone (kilograms) 291
2-Bromo-4-methylpropiophenone (kilograms) 139
4-Methylpropiophenone (kilograms) 105
Table. Chemicals associated with cocaine processing
Substance Quantity seized
Potassium permanganate (kilograms) 1098
Ethyl acetate (litres) 26366

Source data

The data used to generate infographics and charts on this page may be found below.

List of tables

Table 1. Number of reported drug seizures, breakdown by drug, 2021
Substance Percentage
Herbal cannabis 39
Cannabis resin 32.8
Cannabis plants 1.9
Cocaine and crack 11.2
Heroin 3
Amphetamine 3.5
Methamphetamine 1.2
MDMA 1.6
Other substances 5.7
Table 4. Drug seizures in the European Union — number of seizures in 2021.
Drug Methamphetamine MDMA Heroin Amphetamine Cocaine Cannabis resin Herbal cannabis
Number of seizures 7196 10110 18709 21816 67832 201631 240289
Table 5. Drug seizures in the European Union — quantity seized in 2021 (tonnes)
Drug Methamphetamine MDMA Amphetamine Heroin Herbal cannabis Cocaine Cannabis resin
Quantity seized 1 2 7 10 256 303 816
Table 8. Drug law offences – number of offences
Drug Possession/use Supply
Cannabis 566089 99547
Heroin 23439 9882
Cocaine 65856 30571
Amphetamines 55830 8602
MDMA 9188 4453
Other substances 26033 27085

About this page 

Recommended citation: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (2023), European Drug Report 2023: Trends and Developments, https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/european-drug-report/2023_en


HTML: TD-AT-23-001-EN-Q
ISBN: 978-92-9497-865-3
DOI: 10.2810/161905