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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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European crackdown on counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals results in seizure of 34.5 million drug units

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European crackdown on counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals

A coalition of European law enforcement agencies has participated in a Europol-backed crackdown on the online and real-world distribution and sale of counterfeit and smuggled pharmaceuticals.

Led by police in Finland and France, the operation involved investigators from 11 European Union members states, Ukraine and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The crackdown was also supported by agents from the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

In a four-day operation that kicked off on 15 October last year, the results of which can only be revealed now for operational reasons, officers taking part in the crackdown broke up six organised crime networks involved in the distribution and sale of fake and smuggled pharmaceuticals.

The initiative saw investigators carry out 112 property raids across several countries, and make nearly 50 arrests in nations including Cyprus, Finland, France, Hungary, Portugal, Spain and the UK.

In total, the operation resulted in the confiscation of 34.5 million units of counterfeit and smuggled medicines, doping products and other substances estimated to be worth some €2.6 million ($2.88 million).

These included antihistamines, anxiolytics, erectile dysfunction pills, hormone and metabolic regulators, narcotics, painkillers, antioestrogens, antivirals and hypnotics.

In a statement announcing the results of the operation, Europol said that organised criminals routinely misuse pseudoephedrine, an active ingredient of nasal/sinus decongestant medicines to make methamphetamine.

“Drug addicts use psychotropics, which are mostly made from hypnotic medicines, to replace opioid drugs like heroin,” the agency said.

“Pseudoephedrine and psychotropic medicines were among the biggest seizures made on the action days.

“Stolen with fake medical prescriptions or acquired with the collaboration of complacent doctors and pharmacists, most of these medicines were diverted from the legitimate supply chain. Several thousands of the seized medicines were falsified.”

Separately, the leaders of seven African nations have agreed to draft new laws to criminalise the sale of counterfeit drugs.

At a two-day summit on counterfeit medicines in the Togolese capital of Lome, the heads of state of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Senegal, Togo and Uganda signed an agreement to bolster cooperation between governments and encourage other African nations to join the initiative.

The summit was organised by the Brazzavile Foundation, which is expected to lead the agreed “Lomé Initiative” to end the illegal trafficking and use of counterfeit drugs.

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Police in Spain smash sham marriage network that charged migrants €12,000 for bogus nuptials

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police in Spain smash sham marriage network

Spanish police have arrested 30 suspected members of a sham marriage network that facilitated illegal immigration by setting up partnerships of convenience.

In an operation backed by Europol, investigators from Spain’s Policía Nacional carried out 11 raids on multiple residential and business premises, seizing more than €10,000 ($11,093) in cash along with evidence that indicted those detained were involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration and document fraud.

Members of the network are said to have set up sham marriages between male illegal immigrants and Spanish women, allowing the men to formalise their stay in the European Union.

Migrants seeking to avail themselves of the gang’s services would be charged as much as €12,000, with their bogus partners being paid €3,000 for agreeing to enter into fake marriages.

Members of the gang, which was made up of members of both Moroccan and Spanish origin, used a complex web of shell companies to facilitate the conspiracy, and had also set up a sophisticated money laundering operation, through which their profits were funnelled.

The network was based in the Valencia town of Sagunto, but also had bases in Morocco, Belgium, France and Italy, a fact that triggered the involvement of Europol.

In a statement, the EU law enforcement agency said: “Europol provided coordination and analytical support and facilitated the information exchange.

“On the action day, Europol also deployed experts on-the-spot to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases and to provide technical expertise.”

The investigation that led to the dismantling of the network was launched after Spanish police were alerted to potential irregularities in residence permit applications in Sagunto.

The two alleged leaders of network, a Spaniard and a Frenchman both of Moroccan origin, owned several companies in Sagunto, through which the Spanish women to whom migrants were married were employed.

Migrants who used the network’s services would either remain in Spain or be transported by the gang to France or Belgium.

In January of last year, police in Belgium and Portugal broke up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

Investigators arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids in an operation that targeted a network that was said to have paid women thousands of euros to marry the illegal immigrants.

Back in August 2018, law enforcement agencies in Romania and Poland held five members of an organised crime gang suspected of being behind the arrangement of sham marriages for Indian and Nepali nationals looking to gain access to the EU.

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US scientists develop edible security tags to thwart drug counterfeiters

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edible security tags

Researchers at Purdue University have created a small edible tag that can be embedded into medicines in order to prevent the counterfeiting of drugs.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the institution explain that drug counterfeiters would need to decipher complicated patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to get round the new security system.

The edible tags serve as digital fingerprints for individual pills and capsules, and are intended to help pharmacists verify the legitimacy of their stock before dispensing it to patients as well as being a method to discourage the counterfeiting of medicines.

According to the researchers, their invention uses an authentication technique called physical unclonable functions (PUF) that generate a different response each time they are stimulated, meaning that even drug manufacturers would not be able to recreate tags.

Taking the form of a transparent film made of silk and fluorescent proteins, the tags are easily digestible, meaning they can be consumed by patients when they take their mediation.

Commenting on the new technology, Jung Woo Leem, a postdoctoral associate in biomedical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement: “Our concept is to use a smartphone to shine an LED light on the tag and take a picture of it. The app then identifies if the medicine is genuine or fake.”

The tags currently last for at least two months before the proteins start to degrade, but Leem and his team are working on extending their life so as they can last until the expiry date of the drugs they are intended to protect.

As well as holding a security key that can verify the authenticity of medication, the tags could also hold other information, such as dosage instructions.

Leem has made two patent applications to protect the tags through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation.

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2017, 10% of all pharmaceutical products circulating in low and middle-income countries at that time were either fake or of substandard quality.

The WHO said the trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is controlled by major organised crime networks who often channel their profits into other forms of illicit activity.

In March of last year, Europol revealed that a crackdown it had led on the sale of illicit pharmaceuticals across 16 countries in 2018 resulted in the seizure of some 13 million doses of counterfeit or smuggled medicines.

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