NEWS

Europe and its new illegal labs

Although Europe used to import most of its narcotics, it now produces its own, according to findings presented at a recent international seminar held by the Public Order Ministry on drug distribution routes in the Balkans. European Union member states, such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, are among the main producers of synthetic drugs. Illegal laboratories are also found in Eastern European countries. In Ukraine alone, 142 illegal laboratories producing synthetic drugs were discovered in 2002. According to international organizations, the market for synthetic drugs is booming around the world; these are viewed as the drugs of the next decade for a large number of young people. Police are concerned, as the risks of these substances have not yet been fully researched and their chemical composition is subject to wide fluctuations. Large quantities of amphetamines and ecstasy have been seized in many places around the world and market prices have also gone down, so it is believed that production and distribution networks are growing. Contrary to prevailing beliefs regarding the production of synthetic drugs, no specialist knowledge is required, as there are clear instructions on a number of Internet sites on everything from the type of equipment to use to how to get the chemical components. As for the laboratories, these are referred to as the «kitchen type,» because of their small size and the fact that they can be set up anywhere. Along with the spread of synthetic drugs, the distribution of traditional narcotics has continued to expand, having moved into the hands of international organized crime rackets also involved in weapons and cigarette smuggling, human trafficking and money laundering. In recent years, the Balkan peninsula has developed into a major transfer point for drugs (chiefly heroin) from their countries of origin in Central Asia to the European Union. It is estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the heroin reaching Europe comes from Afghanistan, where production has not dropped below 1995 levels of about 2,000 tons annually. The Balkans, particularly those nations on its western reaches, are also centers for the processing and preparation of drugs. According to data presented at the seminar, this is where the major processing plants are located. Drugs also enter Europe via Turkey and then the Caucasus or via the Black Sea, while a new route was recently opened up through Moscow to Finland, and from there southward. Turkish and Albanian organized crime rackets almost have a monopoly on the drug distribution trade, with the Albanians prevailing in Germany, Austria and Italy. Estonian criminal gangs control Scandinavia, and Chechens, the Caucasus, while Turkish groups handle the rest of Europe. A new element in this extremely profitable trade is the transport of drugs from West to East. Groups bringing heroin to Europe take synthetic drugs and cocaine back in the other direction, maximizing profits. Distribution via the Balkans has resulted in a massive increase in the number of users in these countries. In Greece, there are now fewer new heroin addicts, as young people are turning to synthetic drugs.