An EU watchdog has warned today that increased amounts of cocaine, at the highest purity at street-level seen in a decade, are flooding Europe.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said in its annual European Drug Report that cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, used by around 2.3m 15-34 year olds in the EU-28 over the past year.
Climbing production in Latin America of coca, the plant from which cocaine is derived, was blamed for the cocaine dump. Despite evidence that cocaine bought at street level in 2016 was more pure than it has been in a decade, prices were remaining relatively stable.
"The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America," said EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel.
"Early warnings from wastewater analysis about rising cocaine availability are now supported by other data suggesting growing supply, including increases in purity and in the number and quantity of cocaine seizures.
We must be concerned about the health implications of cocaine use as we are beginning to see some worrying developments in this area, including a larger number of people entering treatment for the first time for cocaine problems.
In analysis of wastewater, the UK emerged as one of the countries with the highest traces of cocaine along with Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.
London was the city with the highest traces found in 2016, followed by Barcelona and Amsterdam, though only selected cities were tested. The lowest level was found in eastern European cities.
A total of 98,000 seizures of the drug were reported in the EU in 2016, up from 90,000 in 2015, amounting to 70.9 tonnes.
Cocaine was the second most common drug to be reported in drug-related hospital emergency presentations, across a network of 19 hospitals, behind only heroin.
In 2016, 30,300 clients entered treatment for the first time for problems with the substance, over a fifth more than in 2014.
More than 67,000 clients entered specialised treatment for cocaine-related problems in 2016, while 8,300 clients entered treatment for primary use of the more additive crack cocaine.
EMCDDA also warned that as well as increasing imports, there were signs that more people within the EU were producing their own drugs.
Cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug in Europe, and the EMCDDA added that moves to legalise the smoked substance in the US could have effects on Europe.
Fewer new psychoactive substances have been debuting on the market but health harms, especially linked to new synthetic cannabinoids and opioids, have been rising.