White Christmas: Emojis, Narcos glamour, and stable prices make cocaine ‘drug of choice’

Malta is among the EU member states that reported a four- to five-fold increase in the quantity of cocaine seized

The EMCDDA report on cocaine trends cited TV series such as Narcos and Gomorrah as possible references. “Such normalisation and misunderstanding of the harms caused by cocaine-related products may have negative repercussions”
The EMCDDA report on cocaine trends cited TV series such as Narcos and Gomorrah as possible references. “Such normalisation and misunderstanding of the harms caused by cocaine-related products may have negative repercussions”

Malta is among the European Union’s member states that reported a four- to five-fold increase in the quantity of cocaine seized in the last years, another reminder of the burgeoning permanence of the drug in Europe.

Although no indicator of increased consumption, the EU reported 70.9 tonnes of seized cocaine over 98,000 individual seizures in 2016 – the majority occurring at frontier states such as Romania, Poland, Cyprus, Latvia and Malta.

A new report by the European drugs agency EMCDDA on cocaine trends says Western EU countries remain the primary destination countries for wholesale cocaine trafficking. But in several countries in the east and south-east of Europe, such as Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia, Hungary and Malta – where seizures have increased – the overall number of drug-related deaths is very small and, consequently, trend analysis of cocaine-related deaths is difficult. But cocaine remains perceived as a permissive, “functional and easily controlled drug” that enhances social interactions and combines easily with alcohol, which is why it retains its appeal in pubs and bars, and private parties.

A Facebook post advertising cocaine prices by a dealer. Source: EMCDDA
A Facebook post advertising cocaine prices by a dealer. Source: EMCDDA

“Trendspotter experts reporting on nightlife settings described the increasing acceptability and normalisation of use of powder cocaine across diverse social groups, which are manifested in greater overtness and visibility of use,” the EMCDDA report says. Increased disposable income and lower risk perceptions of cocaine were leading to its normalisation, as well as its glamorisation: the report cited TV series such as Narcos and Gomorrah as possible references.

“Such normalisation and misunderstanding of the harms caused by cocaine-related products may have negative repercussions”. The reported retail price of cocaine varies considerably among countries in Europe, ranging from €44 (Portugal) to €104 (Bulgaria) per gram, with a mid-price being stable over the past two years at €51-73. The EMCDDA report says that in recent years, cocaine’s higher purity has repositioned it as the “stimulant drug of choice”, with the most recent EU-level estimate suggesting that around 2.3 million young adults (aged 15-34 years) used cocaine in the last year (1.9% of this age group).

The report says innovative methods of supplying cocaine to consumers have emerged across Europe: communication among vendors, ‘runners’, or couriers, and buyers is facilitated by the use of semi-private encrypted communication applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram, which makes it difficult for law enforcement to monitor such communication.

Open public social media applications such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook are used to promote time-limited offers to a wider public using emojis such as snowflakes for powder cocaine, or pictures of cocaine to promote offers.

“Novel technologies such as encrypted communication applications, the darknet, social media and cryptocurrencies are playing an important role in enabling smaller groups and individual ‘entrepreneurs’ to engage, with a perception of less risk, in cocaine dealing,” the report states, calling it the ‘Uberisation’ of the cocaine trade, a reference to the disruptive taxi service enabled by a mobile phone app.

“The trade in cocaine between vendors and buyers traditionally operated mostly within small circles and was concealed from the public. We are now seeing a qualitative change in the nature of cocaine dealing, whereby social media is used to promote cocaine and other illicit drugs relatively openly, with the aim of reaching as many potential consumers as possible.”

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