Drug supply, production and precursors – the current situation in Europe (European Drug Report 2024)

cover of the European Drug Report 2024: Supply, production and precursors

Analysis of the supply-related indicators for 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 2022 data on drug production and precursor seizures.

This page is part of the European Drug Report 2024, the EMCDDA's annual overview of the drug situation in Europe.

Last update: 11 June 2024

High drug availability fuelled by large-volume imports and production within the European Union

Drug availability within the European Union

Analysis of supply-related indicators for illicit drugs in the European Union suggests that availability remains high across all substance types. In addition, the market is characterised by the widespread availability of a broader range of drugs, often available at high potency or purity, potentially increasing risks to health. These include 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, such as cannabis, the routes of administration (e.g. vaping, edibles) by which they may be consumed. Together, 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, especially among vulnerable users such as people experiencing social and economic marginalisation and deprivation. 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, high-purity and potency drugs, especially 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 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 now more important for some substances, such as synthetic cathinones. Drug precursors and related chemicals are also often reported to be sourced from China.

Large seizures of drugs, particularly cocaine, in intermodal shipping containers have continued to be detected in the last few years. For example, in 2023 Spain reported its largest seizure to date of 9.5 tonnes of cocaine in a single shipment concealed in bananas that originated in Ecuador (Figure 1.1). The drug trafficking operations of organised crime groups increasingly target legitimate commercial infrastructure involved in global trade. Documented instances show infiltration of supply chains and exploitation of key staff through intimidation and corruption. Moreover, there are increasing concerns regarding the recruitment and exploitation of juveniles by criminal networks in the illicit drug trade. This is reflected in the priority given to countering these threats 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 growing recognition of the need to do more to counter the violence, corruption and criminal exploitation practices associated with drug market operations.

Figure 1.1. ‘Operation Nano’, 9.5 tonnes of cocaine seized in August 2023 at the Port of Algeciras (Cadiz), Spain
Photograph of seized cocaine guarded by law enforcement officers.
Photograph of seized cocaine.

Credit: Policía Nacional and the Spanish Customs Surveillance Force (SVA-DAVA).

The dynamics of the production and trafficking of illicit drugs internationally adapt in response to geopolitical developments, regional conflicts and changes in trade routes. Developments in recent years in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador have, for example, contributed to the increased availability of cocaine for trafficking to the European Union by organised crime groups, simultaneously using multiple modi operandi (Figure 1.2) in an attempt to evade detection. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated a 95 % drop in opium cultivation in 2023 in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s opium ban. While it is too early to determine the full impact of this situation on European drug markets, it is likely to affect the availability of heroin in Europe in the coming years, with concerns being raised around its replacement with other drugs, such as highly potent synthetic opioids or stimulants. At the same time, conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East appear to be having an impact on the trafficking routes used by criminals to move illicit drugs to Europe.

Figure 1.2. Examples of drug trafficking methods previously reported by law enforcement in Europe

Trafficking methods

  • Infiltration of logistical supply chains
  • Intermodal shipping containers
  • Container switching, code fraud, extraction teams
  • Corruption, intimidation of officials and vessel operators
  • More use of smaller ports
  • Floating GPS-tagged drops
  • Collection from mother ships by small vessels
  • Speedboats, pleasure craft
  • Semi-submersibles (narco subs, torpedoes)
  • Chemical concealment or masking of shipments
  • More use of general aviation, small airfields

Almost 70 % of the drug seizures by customs authorities happen in the European Union’s ports. Complementing the EU Drugs Strategy and Action Plan 2021-25, the 2023 EU Roadmap Against Drug Trafficking contains measures to enhance customs risk management and the detection of trafficked drugs and precursors. This includes enhancing the interoperability of customs information systems among EU Member States and supporting the deployment of advanced container-scanning equipment. It also supports the newly established European Ports Alliance, a public-private partnership approach, designed to increase the resilience of Europe’s key logistical centres against drug trafficking and infiltration by organised crime groups. It will aim to support the implementation of best practices and recommendations from the 2023 Schengen Thematic Evaluation on drug trafficking in ports. This will include not only tackling drug trafficking into Europe, but downstream disruption of trafficking by law enforcement on rail and road networks.

Organised crime groups attempt to evade legislative and customs controls restricting the use of chemicals widely used in legitimate industries by creating alternative chemicals. In response, the EU Roadmap supports making EU legislative scheduling to control precursors more rapid to match the pace of criminal innovation by extending it to cover known derivatives and related chemicals that can be converted into or substituted for established drug precursors. The EMCDDA’s revised mandate will see it transformed into the European Union Drugs Agency, playing a greater role in supporting the European Commission in the monitoring, scheduling and threat assessment of precursors. The EU Roadmap also seeks to tackle the issue of alternative chemicals by supporting the equipment needs of customs laboratories. Information exchange with countries where precursors are sourced will be enhanced, including, for example, through the EU-China Joint Follow-up Group on Precursors. The European Commission is also a member of the United States-led Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, which targets precursors, including those required to manufacture new synthetic opioids, through collaboration on priority actions.

Drug production within the European Union

These policy developments are taking place at a time when Europe remains an important production region for various illicit drugs. Cannabis produced in the European Union is generally for EU consumption, and many thousands of cannabis cultivation sites are reported as dismantled each year in EU Member States. Synthetic drugs, such as MDMA and amphetamines, are also produced in the European Union and may be trafficked to non-EU markets. Reports indicate that the hundreds of illicit drug production facilities dismantled in the European Union produced a variety of substances ranging from amphetamine, methamphetamine, synthetic cathinones and MDMA to cocaine and heroin. Although it can be difficult to determine, in some cases, a single laboratory may have been producing multiple substances, such as various synthetic stimulants that have similar chemical and equipment manufacturing requirements. It is difficult to estimate the production capacity of individual dismantled laboratories. Overall, this means that while it is possible to determine that the production of various illicit drugs takes place in Europe, commenting on the total number of facilities, trends or changes in capacity remains problematic. While large-scale methamphetamine and amphetamine laboratories are reported, many are small-scale, hence larger numbers are reported and these fluctuate annually. While the majority of dismantled MDMA production sites were reported by the Netherlands and Spain, some Member States that usually dismantle large numbers of facilities did not report information for 2022. The detection of separate facilities for cocaine production, extraction, cutting and packaging in recent years suggests that cocaine production is now well-established in Europe and that 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, thereby circumventing the controls in place to reduce the availability of these drugs. Large seizures of precursors in 2022 suggest that the production of synthetic cathinones remains significant, particularly in Poland. The size and scale of the production sites reported as dismantled by law enforcement varies from ‘kitchen-scale’ laboratories to higher-throughput facilities operated by multiple ‘cooks’, which produce several dozens of kilograms of finished product per batch in special reactors. In smaller sites, production appears to be destined mostly for local markets and, occasionally, for sale on the darknet. Although information is very limited, larger production sites also appear to supply local markets and occasionally the finished product is exported outside Europe.

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.

Key data and trends

Drug supply trends

  • Indexed trends, overall, show that the quantities of all drugs seized in the European Union increased between 2012 and 2022, 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 (Figure 1.3).

  • Between 2012 and 2022, the largest increases have been for cocaine (+376 %), methamphetamine (+293 %), herbal cannabis (+184 %), heroin (+91 %), amphetamine (+74 %) and MDMA (+71 %). The small increase observed for cannabis resin (+5 %) reflects the 52 % decrease reported by Spain for 2022, likely related to shifting drug trafficking routes. 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.

Figure 1.3. Drug seizures in the European Union – quantity of drugs seized, indexed trends (2012 = 100)

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

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

  • 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.

  • An estimated 1 million seizures were reported in 2022 in the European Union, with cannabis products being the most frequently seized, accounting for 71 % of the number of all seizures (Figure 1.4 and Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.4. Drug seizures in the European Union – number of reported drug seizures, breakdown by drug, 2022 (percent)
Figure 1.5a. Drug seizures in the European Union – number of seizures in 2022

Data for seizures related to the main controlled drugs; not included are other seizure categories, including new psychoactive substances, medicines, hypnotics and sedatives, and seizures of unknown or unspecified substances.

Figure 1.5b. Drug seizures in the European Union – quantity seized in 2022 (tonnes)

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

  • In terms of numbers, fewer seizures were made in 2022 than in 2012 of cannabis resin (−18 %), herbal cannabis (−23 %) and heroin (−28 %) (Figure 1.6). This may reflect changes in policing practices, consumption patterns or drug availability.

  • The largest increases observed in the number of seizures between 2012 and 2022 were for methamphetamine (+180 %), MDMA (+60 %), cocaine (+26 %) and amphetamine (+5 %).

Figure 1.6. Drug seizures in the European Union – number of drug seizures, indexed trends (2012 = 100)

Drug law offences trends

  • In 2022, an estimated 1.5 million drug law offences were reported in the European Union, an increase of 26 % since 2012. More than three quarters of these offences (77 % or 1.2 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 809 000 were for possession or use, 177 000 were for supply-related offences and 3 000 were for other types of offence (Figure 1.7). Definitions of what constitutes a supply-related offence may vary between countries.

  • With approximately 609 000 reported offences in 2022, cannabis accounted for three quarters of the use or possession offences (75 %), for which the drug is known, and just over half or 98 000 of the drug supply offences (56 %). The predominance of cannabis in both supply and possession offences reflects the level of demand for the drug; it also attests to the policy importance of this drug.

  • Both drug possession and drug supply offences remain at higher levels than in 2012 for all drugs apart from heroin (Figure 1.8 and Figure 1.9).

Figure 1.7. Drug law offences – number of offences, supply and use/possession, 2022

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

Figure 1.8. Drug law offences – possession/use offences, indexed trends (2012 = 100)
Figure 1.9. Drug law offences – supply offences, indexed trends (2012 = 100)

EU production and precursors data for 2022

  • Cannabis: EU Member States reported 98 000 seizures of cannabis plants, amounting to 3.5 million individual plants and 6.5 tonnes in 2022 (4.3 million plants and 32.5 tonnes in 2021). In 2022, almost 5 700 illicit cannabis cultivation were dismantled in 14 EU Member States, according to data obtained from open sources and national partners.

  • Heroin: Two heroin production sites were dismantled in the Netherlands in 2022 (3 in 2021). Only three seizures of the heroin precursor chemical acetic anhydride, amounting to 141 litres (5 730 litres in 2021), were reported by Germany, Spain and Poland. Worldwide, seizures of acetic anhydride have been declining substantially since 2019. This may indicate a decline in attempts at diverting and trafficking the substance, or a shift to alternative trafficking routes.

  • Cocaine: In 2022, at least 39 sites related to cocaine production were dismantled in the European Union (34 in 2021). In spite of a decrease in the quantity of potassium permanganate seized in 2022 (173 kilograms) compared with 2021 (1 100 kilograms), it is likely that the large-scale processing of cocaine hydrochloride from imported intermediary products continues to take place in the European Union. For example, a cocaine processing laboratory dismantled in Spain in 2023 was reported to have a daily output capacity of 200 kilograms of the drug. In addition, some large seizures have been reported of unusual substances containing cocaine that must be extracted by chemical means, indicating that processing continues to be a significant problem in Europe. For example, in 2022, chemically concealed cocaine was detected in a shipment in 22 tonnes of sugar in France and in 100 kilograms of coal, part of a larger load of coal shipped to Croatia.

  • Amphetamine: In 2022, 7 EU Member States reported dismantling 108 amphetamine laboratories (119 in 2021): the Netherlands (39), Belgium (35), Poland (22), Spain (5), Sweden (5), Croatia (1) and Romania (1).

  • Methamphetamine: Nine EU Member States reported dismantling 242 methamphetamine laboratories in 2022 (224 in 2021): Czechia (202), the Netherlands (14), Bulgaria (12), Belgium (6), Poland (4), Greece (1), Spain (1), Slovenia (1) and Sweden (1). Seizures of the precursors needed to synthesise methamphetamine via the ‘ephedrine method’ (ephedrine and pseudoephedrine) amounting to 352 kilograms (both powders and tablets) were reported by 15 EU Member States in 2022 (723 kilograms by 15 EU Member States in 2021).

  • Methamphetamine can also be produced using BMK as a starting material (BMK is also used to produce amphetamine). In 2022, 1 329 litres of BMK (close to 5 100 litres in 2021) and 26.6 tonnes of substances (10.5 tonnes in 2021) that can be used to produce BMK were seized in Europe. These seizures included 25.6 tonnes of glycidic derivatives of BMK (736 kilograms in 2021), 379 kilograms of MAPA (close to 9.7 tonnes in 2021) and over 500 kilograms of APAA and APAAN (50 kilograms of APAA in 2021). Two new alternative chemicals that can also be used to make BMK, DEPAPD and DEPAPD enolate, were reported in Europe (and worldwide) for the first time in 2022, seized in relatively small amounts. In addition, seizures of tartaric acid, a chemical that allows the retrieval of the most potent and sought-after form of methamphetamine (d-methamphetamine, used for ‘crystal meth’) from mixtures produced by BMK methods, reached 2.6 tonnes in 2022 (4.5 tonnes in 2021) and were reported by Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. This suggests that large-scale production of d-methamphetamine continues to take place in Europe. The increased quantities of methamphetamine precursors and related chemicals seized in Europe reflects the globally significant capacity of synthetic drug producing groups in the European Union.

  • MDMA: In 2022, six EU Member States reported dismantling 48 MDMA laboratories (25 in 2021). Belgium reported 27 MDMA laboratories in 2022 (8 in 2021), with the Netherlands reporting 13, Spain reporting 5 and France, Poland and Sweden reporting 1 each. Seizures of MDMA precursors increased to 20.5 tonnes in 2022 (7.1 tonnes in 2021). Seizures of the MDMA precursor PMK and its glycidic derivatives surpassed 19.9 tonnes in 2022 (2.6 tonnes in 2021). Other alternative chemicals were also reported: MAMDPA was seized in smaller amounts in 2022 (37 kilograms versus 4.5 tonnes in 2021). These reports of increased seizures of MDMA precursors, combined with information about MDMA exports, may reflect an increase in the production of the drug for global markets and a general rebound following a decline related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Cathinones: In 2022, 29 synthetic cathinone production sites, some of which were large-scale, were dismantled in the European Union (15 in 2021): 23 in Poland (12 in 2021) and 6 in the Netherlands (2 in 2021). Seizures of synthetic cathinone precursors amounted to 558 kilograms in 2022 (555 kilograms in 2021), mainly in Poland (355 kilograms). A shipment of 1 tonne of the 4-CMC precursor 1-(4-chlorophenyl)propan-1-one was stopped in France, originating from China and en route to Poland.

  • Synthetic opioids: In 2023, Latvian police reported dismantling a site equipped to produce fentanyl and seizing nearly 2 kilograms of the drug, as well as 2.7 kilograms of fentanyl precursor NPP at the same premises. Also in 2023, Latvian police reported dismantling an illicit methadone laboratory.

  • Dumping sites: In 2022, Belgium (41) and the Netherlands (153) accounted for the 194 dumping sites for drug production waste and equipment reported in the European Union (234 in 2021). 

The EMCDDA and Europol’s EU Drug Markets: In-depth analysis provides detailed information on the production and trafficking of illicit drugs.

Summary of seizures of EU scheduled precursors and non-scheduled chemicals used for selected drugs produced in the European Union, 2022
Precursors associated with MDMA production
Substance Quantity seized
Glycidic derivatives of PMK (kilograms) 14182
Helional (litres) 5
MAMDPA (kilograms) 37
Nitro-PMK (kilograms) < 1
Piperonal (kilograms) < 1
PMK (litres) 3883
Safrole (litres) 436
Precursors associated with amphetamine and methamphetamine production
Substance Quantity seized
AIBN (kilograms) 20
Ammonium formate (litres) 19
APAA (kilograms) 11
APAAN (kilograms) 500
Benzaldehyde (kilograms) 482
Benzylcyanide (kilograms) 3
BMK (litres) 1329
DEPAPD (litres) 13
DEPAPD enolate (kilograms) 100
Ephedrine (kilograms) 312
Formamide (kilograms) 9943
Formic acid (litres) 10432
Glycidic derivatives of BMK (kilograms) 25567
Iodine (kilograms) 75
MAPA (kilograms) 379
Nitroethane (litres) 1
Phenyl-2-nitropropene (kilograms) 4
Phenethylamine (kilograms) 34
Phenylacetic acid (kilograms) 25
Pseudoephedrine (kilograms) 40
Red phosphorus (kilograms) 108
Tartaric acid (kilograms) 2574
Precursors associated with heroin production
Substance Quantity seized
Acetic anhydride (litres) 141
Precursors associated with cathinones production
Substance Quantity seized
2-Bromo-4-chloropropiophenone (kilograms) 234
2-Bromo-4-methylpropiophenone (kilograms) 324
Chemicals associated with cocaine processing
Substance Quantity seized
Calcium chloride (kilograms) 2040
Potassium permanganate (kilograms) 173
Ethyl acetate (litres) 10491

Source data

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