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Cocaine strength and availability increasing across Europe, EU report finds

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cocaine strength and availability increasing across Europe

The availability and potency of cocaine is rising across Europe, according to a new report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

Cocaine consumption is also up in EU countries, as is the production of a range of other drugs, the agency’s European Drug Report 2018: Trends and Developments shows.

The study found that at least 17 million European adults have tried cocaine at least once in their lives, while approximately 2.3 million young adults have used the drug over the course of the past 12 months.

While the price of cocaine has remained relatively stable, the purity of the drug at street level across Europe was found to be at its highest for a decade in 2016.

At the same time, seizures of the drug have also risen in EU members states, increasing from 90,000 in 2015, to 98,000 the year after.

According to the EMCDDA, cocaine has become the most popular stimulant drug in Europe, with availability and usage being driven by soaring coca cultivation and cocaine production in Latin America.

Unveiling the study yesterday, EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel commented: “The findings from our new report indicate that Europe is now experiencing the consequences of increased cocaine production in Latin America.

“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.

“We must be concerned about the health implications of cocaine use as we are beginning to see some worrying developments in this area, including a larger number of people entering treatment for the first time for cocaine problems.”

Elsewhere, the study revealed that cannabis remains the most widely-used illicit drug in Europe, noting that some 17.2 million young people in European nations aged between 15 and 34 have used cannabis in the last year, and that 1% of European adults use the drug daily or almost daily.

The report also notes that while new psychoactive substances (NPS) continue a to pose a significant risk in Europe, fewer new forms of NPS were reported to the EU Early Warning System (EWS) in 2017 than in previous years.

Despite this, the EMCDDA launched nine risk assessments into the health harms associated with new synthetic cannabinoids and new synthetic opioids last year, including acute intoxications and deaths.

The report noted that highly-potent new synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl and its derivatives are increasingly being detected in EU nation states.

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Interpol-coordinated operation results in shutdown of international dark web paedophile ring

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international dark web paedophile ring

A two-year Interpol-led investigation into an international paedophile network has resulted in the rescue of 50 suspected child abuse victims, as well as the arrest and prosecution of multiple sex offenders in Australia, Thailand and the US, the international law enforcement agency has announced.

Interpol said that it expects more suspects to be detained and charged as police in approaching 60 nations proceed with investigations launched as a result of evidence gathered during the operation, which targeted a hidden dark web paedophile platform with some 63,000 users across the globe.

Operation Blackwrist, which is said to have been named after a bracelet worn by one of the suspected offenders detained during the probe, was launched after Interpol found child sexual exploitation material that was traced back to a subscription-based site on the dark web.

Interpol said the content depicted the abuse of 11 boys, all of whom were aged under 13.

The website published new indecent images every week over the course of a number of years, during which time its administrator took great care to avoid identification, even going so far as to mask the children that were abused in the material he posted online.

Investigators from Interpol sought help from international law enforcement agencies after using the physical characteristics of the children who appeared in the content posted on the website to track their abuse.

The first victims were identified back in November 2017, leading to the detention of numerous suspets linked to the website two months later in Australia and Thailand, where the website’s main administrator was identified as Montri Salangam.

Interpol said Salangam was the man seen abusing the 11 boys that featured in the content that initially alerted the agency to the website.

The children, who included the man’s nephew, had been lured to Salangam’s home with meals, internet access and football games.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “Operation Blackwrist sends a clear message to those abusing children, producing child sexual exploitation material and sharing the images online: We see you, and you will be brought to justice.”

“Every child abuse image is evidence of a crime and Interpol will always provide its full support to officers on the ground to help identify and rescue victims around the world.”

Separately, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service yesterday revealed that a paedophile deputy headteacher of a school in London had been jailed for 28 months after being found guilty of live-streaming children being sexually abused while he was high on cocaine and methamphetamine.

Paul Newbury, 50, was caught when undercover police officers infiltrated the chat rooms he was using, and filmed him sitting naked on his sofa smoking drugs as he watched a live video of a girl aged around eight being abused.

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe

Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.

A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.

Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.

The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.

According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.

The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.

Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”

Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.

Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.

“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”

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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.

The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.

Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.

During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.

Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.

The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.

According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.

In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.

“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”

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