Cocaine and heroin

EMPACT Priority


Cocaine and heroin are an EMPACT priority for the policy cycle from 2013 to 2017: the aim is to reduce cocaine and heroin trafficking to the EU and to disrupt the organised crime groups (OCGs) that facilitate distribution in the EU.

With a retail market estimated to be worth at least EUR 5.7 billion annually, cocaine is Europe’s most commonly used stimulant. Use of the drug may be declining slightly, but availability may be increasing.


Coca-bush cultivation appears to be on the rise in the only countries it is produced in: Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Exactly how much cocaine is produced is not clear, with varying and sometimes mutually contradictory estimates being produced.

Trafficking routes and methods

Cocaine is trafficked to Europe by both sea and air, primarily via Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela. The Caribbean and West Africa are important transit areas, while Central America appears to be becoming more important. Cocaine is also trafficked via routes for other drugs, such as cannabis via North Africa and heroin through East Africa. Cocaine is smuggled into Europe in many ways, from air couriers and express packages to private yachts and jets. The use of maritime containers is of increasing concern. A huge array of concealment methods is used, including those that require chemical extraction.

Organised crime

The range of criminal organisations involved in cocaine trafficking is wider than ever. Within Europe, there is significant cooperation among OGCs. Outside Europe, West African groups are particularly active in transporting cocaine to Europe with air couriers. Other trafficking groups, such as those from the Balkans, are reportedly emerging as an additional significant threat.