EU report says ‘worrying’ cocaine trend also seen in Ireland

Quantity of illicit drugs seized and the value of cash confiscated from gangs reached record levels in the State last year

 

The increase in cocaine seizures across Europe is “worrying”, and the Republic has witnessed a noted increase in the number of cocaine finds, the Health Research Board (HRB) has said.

The board said Forensic Science Ireland – the laboratory which analyses all drugs hauls found by the Garda and Revenue’s Customs officers – reported a fourfold increase in cocaine seizures between 2018 and 2019.

The HRB offered an analysis of the drugs trade in the Republic to coincide with the latest report on drug “trends and developments” published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) on Wednesday.

Some of the data in the European report is obsolete as, in Ireland’s case, it dates back to 2015.

However, The Irish Times has published data in recent weeks showing the drugs trade last year was back to a level only seen briefly at the peak of the Celtic Tiger.

The quantity of illicit drugs seized and the value of cash confiscated from gangs, mostly those involved in the drugs trade, reached record levels last year, and in the first months of 2021 seizure rates have accelerated further.

The Garda National Drugs & Organised Crime Bureau seized narcotics valued at €28 million in the first four months of this year, up from €5.7 million in the same period last year. During this period the bureau confiscated €3.8 million in cash compared to €1.3 million in the corresponding part of 2020.

A total of 23,285 drug crimes were recorded last year, an increase of 9 per cent to a level only previously seen in 2008.

Despite the State being under Covid-19 restrictions for much of the year, the value of drugs and cash seized by the Garda increased to new highs of €36.5 million and €8.1 million respectively. By comparison, €21.3 million of drugs and €2.5 million of cash were seized in 2019.

Shipping containers

The EMCDDA report concluded that during periods of strictest lockdown last yea drugs gangs trafficking mostly stopped using people to courier drugs and instead focused more on concealing drugs in shipping containers and other methods.

At the street end of the drugs trade, messaging apps and encrypted messages were used more often to conduct transactions.

“Although street-based retail drug markets were disrupted during the early lockdowns, and some localised shortages reported, drug sellers and buyers adapted by increasing their use of encrypted messaging services, social media apps, online sources and mail and home delivery services,” the 2021 report said.

“This draws attention to whether a long-term impact of the pandemic could be the further digitalisation of drug markets,” it added, saying drug production in Europe also increased last year, apparently to negate the need to traffic large consignments of drugs into the region.

The centre’s director, Alexis Goosdeel, said despite the restrictions introduced on societies across Europe due to the pandemic, drug users still enjoyed “widespread availability” of “increasingly” pure and potent drugs.

“Drug production and trafficking appears to have adapted rapidly to pandemic-related restrictions, and we have seen little evidence of any major disruptions in supply.

“Social distancing measures may have affected retail drug dealing, but this appears to have led to a greater adoption of new technologies to facilitate drug distribution, possibly accelerating the trend we have seen in recent years where the market is becoming increasingly digitally-enabled.”