European officials have warned that the availability of cocaine appeared to be rising in Europe as a result of increased production in Latin America and “worrying signs” of higher levels of illicit drug processing and production within the EU.

“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,” said Alexis Goosdeel, director of the Lisbon-based EU drugs agency said on Thursday.

Although the price of cocaine remained stable, its purity at street level reached its highest level in a decade in 2016, the agency said in its European Drug Report 2018. The number of cocaine seizures in the EU had also risen, it said, reaching 98,000 in 2016, up from 90,000 the previous year.

Cocaine is the most commonly used illicit stimulant drug in Europe, with about 2.3m people aged 15-34 having used it in the past year. “Troublingly, while still rare, there is also some increase in reported crack cocaine use, and concerns exist that this may be beginning to affect more countries,” the report said.

Trafficking routes are also changing. The Iberian peninsula, historically the main entry point for shipments of cocaine into Europe, had become less prominent, according to 2016 data, with large seizures now reported in container ports further north. Belgium accounted for 43 per cent of the estimated amount of cocaine seized in 2016.

“These changes underline the growing importance of providing effective prevention, treatment and harm-reduction interventions for cocaine users,” Mr Goosdeel said.

Signs of increased cocaine use were emerging in the context of “a dynamic drug market which is able to adapt rapidly in response to drug control measures”, the report added. Evidence of increased drug production in Europe included illicit laboratories producing cocaine and MDMA (“ecstasy”), the scaling up of methamphetamine production and the detection of a small number of heroin production labs.

In a separate study released on Thursday, the agency said the use of new psychoactive substances, which are not covered by international drug controls, posed “an important new challenge for the prison system in Europe”. Drivers for their use in prisons include the ease with which they can be smuggled, including spraying in liquid form on to paper and textiles, and the difficulty in detecting them in drug tests.

Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, said: “the illicit drug market is highly dynamic and adaptable — and therefore all the more dangerous. If we want to stay ahead of the game, our efforts must focus on building both resilience and responsiveness.”

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