Organised crime groups adapted to travel restrictions and border closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report.
The annual report by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Addiction (EMCDDA) published today, shows international drug suppliers have changed their methods and trafficking routes and are increasingly relying on containers and commercial supply routes rather than human couriers.
The report says that while street-based drug markets were initially disrupted, drug dealers changed to using encrypted messaging services, social media apps, online sources and mail and home delivery services, which could lead to a further digitalisation of drug markets.
The report also found evidence that levels of drug use "bounced back" as restrictions on movement, travel and social gatherings were eased in last summer.
An increase in the availability of crack cocaine has also been identified as one of the "worrying developments linked to the pandemic".
Ireland is one of five countries where experts say the use and availability of crack cocaine "appeared to increase" with one indication of this relating to paraphernalia for crack use being distributed by harm reduction services last year.
Those working in harm reduction services in Ireland also warned that the use of methamphetamine here may become more popular among particular groups such as those who inject drugs.
With regard to the use of particular drugs, the report found that cannabis use remains stable at high levels, but raised concerns about the increase in the THC content from 20% to 28%.
There were record seizures of cocaine last year, 213 tonnes up from 177 tonnes in 2018, indicating availability did not decline during the pandemic.
The purity of the drug also increased and more people entered treatment for the first time last year.
Large volumes of heroin are still being seized in the EU (7.9 tonnes in 2019).
While the report indicates there was "less interest" in MDMA or ecstasy last year, the content of the drug in tablets and the purity of the powders also increased.
Forty-six new psychoactive drugs were identified last near, including new synthetic cannabinoids and new synthetic opioids, bringing the total number monitored by EMCDDA to 830.
A total of 370 illegal laboratories were dismantled in 2019.
An estimated 1.5 million drug law offences were reported in the EU in 2019; 82% were related to use or possession for personal use.
Although injecting drug use has been declining in Europe for the past decade, it remains a major cause of drug-related harms.
The report says around 83 million adults (28.9% of those aged 15-64) are estimated to have used illicit drugs at least once in their lives.
Males are more likely to have used (50.6 million) than females (32.8 million) with cannabis reported as the most commonly tried drug (47.6 million males, 30.9 million females), followed by cocaine, MDMA (Ecstasy) and amphetamines.
An estimated 17.4 million adults - 16.9% - used drugs in the last year with twice as many men as women.
High-risk opioid drug use, including heroin, use is estimated at 0.35% of the EU population, equivalent to 1 million users in 2019.
Opioids users accounted for over a quarter (26%) of drug treatment requests and were involved in over three quarters (76%) of all fatal overdoses.