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Drug Cryptomarkets in the 2020s: Policy, Enforcement, Harm, and Resilience

Martin Horton-Eddison, Patrick Shortis, Judith Aldridge, Fernando Caudevilla

University of Manchester, Policy Brief 16, June 2021


UK. Drug Science Podcast - #38 - Drug Markets

This week’s episode features British Academy Global Professor Julia Buxton. Her research focuses on illicit drug markets and the impact of counter-narcotics policies on development, gender equality and security. In her career she’s led projects and worked with multiple universities around the world including the Central European University in Budapest. Outside of Europe, she has geographical expertise on Latin America and is a specialist on Venezuela. (Drug Science, UK, 09.06.2021, Podcast, 41:56)


Syrien/Levante. Greek Captagon Bust Leads to a Criminal Gang and the Port at the Heart of Syria’s Booming New Drug Trade

In late 2018, Greek authorities busted a freighter carrying over $100 million worth of cannabis and the speed-like drug Captagon, evidence of a booming Mediterranean drug trade fueled by Syria’s civil war. An investigation into the vessel reveals a network of criminals associated with the shipment — with connections to the Assad family, a gang in Libya, and London-registered shell companies. (OCCRP - Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, 17.06.2021) 


Changing tides - The evolving illicit drug trade in the western Indian Ocean

The islands of the western Indian Ocean have been drastically impacted by illicit drug markets. Mauritius and the Seychelles report some of the highest rates of heroin consumption in the world. Growing volumes of heroin are being trafficked via Madagascar, which also operates as a significant cannabis exporter in the inter-island drugs economy. (globalinitiative.net, Juni 2021)


The variable and evolving nature of ‘cuckooing’ as a form of criminal exploitation in street level drug markets. 

Spicer, J., Moyle, L. & Coomber, R. 

Trends Organ Crim 23, 301–323 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-019-09368-5


Syrien. ‘A dirty business’: how one drug is turning Syria into a narco-state

Manufacture of Captagon is a growth industry so big it is starting to rival GDP of flatlining economy. (Guardian, UK, 07.05.2021)


How Fentanyl, More than Heroin, Drives US Opioid Market

Based on available data — as well as interviews with more than a dozen counterdrug officials, drug policy experts and academics — the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl has displaced heroin as the leading driver of the ongoing opioid crisis in the United States and is contributing to a deadly scramble for market-control back in Mexico. (INSIGHT CRIME, USA, 28.04.2021)


Niederlande. Port police chief says ‘logistics process wide open to drugs criminals’

Drugs gangs have the run of the logistics process at Rotterdam port, enabled by widespread criminal infiltration at shipping companies, the head of the port police has told the NRC. (DutchNews.nl, Niederlande, 26.05.2021)


Neonazis und organisierte Kriminalität: Drogen, Nazis, ein Bordell 

Sie nennen sich Turonen. Jahrelang blieben sie ungestört. Jetzt sitzen acht in Haft. Die Vorwürfe gegen die Truppe: Drogenhandel und Geldwäsche. (Die Tageszeitung, 15.04.2021)


Generations of Albanians Lived off Cannabis Production. Can They Stop?

A drug crackdown has cut back the cultivation and trafficking of cannabis in Albania. But experts say it will take more than police raids and prosecutions to address the factors that have led whole families and villages to grow weed for decades. (BalkanInsight, Bosnien und Herzegovina, 12.04.2021)


Methamphetamine developments in South Asia: the situation in Iran and the implications for the EU and its neighbours — EU4MD special report


Iran is a key transhipment point for illicit drugs along the Balkan and Southern trafficking routes and this report examines the threats posed by its potential emergence as a transhipment point for Afghan methamphetamine (‘shisheh’). The study is based on interviews with Iranian drug treatment practitioners, law enforcement officers, United Nations officials, and key informants involved in drug supply, in combination with an analysis of more than 70 Iranian newspaper articles and several Turkish, Kurdish, and Australian news articles to outline the scale of methamphetamine trafficking from Iran. (EMCDDA, Alexander Söderholm (lead author), Lisbon, April 2021)


Covid, cocaine take Europe to ‘breaking point’, says Europol

The coronavirus pandemic could fuel organised crime for years to come in Europe, a continent already at “breaking point” from an unprecedented flood of cocaine, the EU’s policing agency warned Monday (12 April). (euractiv.com, 12.04.2021)


European Union serious and organised crime threat assessment 

Report, Serious Organised Crime (SOCTA/OCTA), 12 April 2021 


Kolumbien/Europa. Colombia’s cartels target Europe with cocaine, corruption and torture

Armed Belgian police raids have lifted the lid on a sinister new front in the drugs war. (The Guardian, UK, 11.04.2021)


A Synthetic Age - The Evolution of Methamphetamine Markets in Eastern and Southern Africa

The purpose of this report is to examine the existing retail markets for meth across several countries in eastern and southern Africa. This will be achieved through an analysis of meth availability, retail meth prices, distribution systems and domestic marketplaces. (Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 11, 24.03.2021)


The global illicit economy: Trajectories of organized crime

Through stark images and charts, this report gives a graphic illustration of how the global illicit economy has boomed in the past 20 years and how it poses a serious threat to security, development and justice. (Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 11.03.2021)


Webinar. The cocaine pipeline to Europe (English)

Over the past few years, the cocaine trade has enjoyed an unprecedented boom, fuelled by soaring production. In 2018, the combined production for Colombia, Bolivia and Peru – the three main producers of cocaine – was more than double that of 2013. While the rate of growth has slowed of late, there is still no sign of it hitting a peak. The new report "The cocaine pipeline to Europe" has been jointly produced by InSight Crime and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized crime. This report is the product of field investigations over two years in more than 10 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Europe, as well as interviews with officials, investigators and experts in numerous countries across both continents, and the collection and analysis of open source data and reporting. We discuss the key findings of the report.

(Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, 04.03.2021, Video, 01:28:51)


USA. The US Arrests Mileta Miljanić, the Alleged Leader of ‘Group America’ 

U.S. authorities have arrested the alleged leader of a criminal clan known as Group America, believed to have smuggled tons of cocaine across the world. The gang is known for dismembering enemies with chainsaws, assassinating senior government officials and cooperating with intelligence agencies. (OCCRP - Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, 05.03.2021)


GROUP AMERICA: A US-Serbian Drug Gang With Friends In The Shadows

They’ve been accused of dismembering enemies with chainsaws, assassinating senior government officials and trading on ties with intelligence agencies. They’ve smuggled cocaine — tons and tons of it — across the world and now feed a sizable share of Europe’s drug habit.

Yet few outside of law enforcement have heard of Group America.

The decades-old criminal organization with roots in New York and the Balkans operates in dozens of countries, but its leaders have shown amazing ability to evade capture. (OCCRP - Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, 01.09.2020)


Kolumbien. Colombian cocaine exports intact despite pandemic claims DEA

During a year in which countries around the world placed citizens under strict lock downs and international commerce ground to a halt with heightened trade controls, criminal organizations were quick to adjust to coronavirus restrictions by “flooding communities with dangerous drugs,” remarked the U.S Drug Enforcement Agency’s Acting Administrator Christopher Evans during the release on Tuesday of the 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment. (The City Paper Bogota, Kolumbien, 03.03.2021)



InSight Crime and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized crime

Februar 2021


USA. 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment

The 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) is a comprehensive assessment of the threat posed to the United States by the trafficking and abuse of illicit drugs, the diversion and abuse of licit drugs, and the laundering of proceeds generated through illicit drug sales. It also addresses the role domestic groups, including organized violent gangs, serve in domestic drug trafficking. (DEA – Drug Enforcement Adminstration, USA, 02.03.2021)


Radical technological breakthroughs in drugs and drug markets: The cases of cannabis and fentanyl. 

Caulkins JP. 

Int J Drug Policy. 2021 Feb 11:103162. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2021.103162. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 33583681.


Journal of Illicit Economies and Development: - Volume 2 - Issue 2 – 2020 - Special Issue on Urban Peace – März 2021


Die Drogen und der Rechtsstaat. Größter Kokainfund aller Zeiten – ja, und? 

Eine Kolumne von Thomas Fischer

In Hamburg ist eine große Menge eingeschmuggeltes Kokain sichergestellt worden. Einmal mehr ist vom »Schlag gegen die Kriminalität« die Rede. Wir fragen: Was bringt's? (Spiegel online, 26.02.2021)


Hamburger Hafen. Größter Kokainfund aller Zeiten 

Zollfahnder haben im Hamburger Hafen 16 Tonnen Kokain sichergestellt. Es ist der größte Kokainfund aller Zeiten in Deutschland und Europa. Experten warnen vor einem "gigantischen Sicherheitsproblem". (tagesschau.de, 24.02.2021)


The Future of the Cocaine Trade to Europe

The flow of cocaine to Europe may have suffered along with most licit businesses due to the Covid-19 crisis, but few believe the damage to the drug trade will be permanent.  The pandemic has accelerated certain aspects of the evolution of cocaine smuggling that will shape its future. (insightcrime.com, USA, 09.02.2021)


The Last Days of Heroin: Fentanyl’s Rise and the Pattern It Represents

Five years ago, British Columbia saw a change. People who use drugs in the Canadian province started overdosing in higher numbers, as fentanyl arrived into the unregulated opioid supply. The province—which recently asked the Canadian federal government for the ability to decriminalize drugs—saw a record 1,716 illicit drug-related deaths last year. Finding heroin or other unregulated opioids without fentanyl or its analogs in the mix has become near-impossible there. (Filter, USA, 18.02.2021)


Myanmar, Myanmar Opium Production Drops as Meth Surges, UN Says 

BANGKOK - Opium production in Myanmar, the world’s second-largest cultivator of the poppies that are the base ingredient for heroin, has dropped, according to a United Nations study released Thursday, as "Golden Triangle” drug lords focus on the more lucrative synthetic drug trade. (VoA – Voice of America, USA, 11.02.2021)


China Turns Blind Eye To Lucrative Cartel Chemical Trade, DEA Says

Agency experts tell VICE World News that China and Mexico are not doing enough to help stem the global trade in the chemicals used to make fentanyl and meth. (VICE World News, UK, 03.02.2021)