Global cocaine production hits “record high,” U.N. drugs agency says

Global cocaine production has soared to record highs after declining during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Between 2020 and 2021, cocaine production jumped 35%, the sharpest yearly increase since 2016, the report says.

Submarine with 2 bodies, 3 tons of cocaine seized in Pacific Ocean

The increase is due to a combination of expansion in coca bush cultivation and improved techniques in making cocaine.

Suspected cocaine was seized by Canadian authorities at the Blue Water Bridge, which links Port Huron, Michigan, and Sarnia, Canada, December 14, 2022. / Credit: Canada Border Services Agency

Demand for cocaine across the world has grown over the past decade, and while the main markets remain in the Americas and Europe, there is a “strong potential” for expansion in Asia and Africa, according to UNODC.

“The surge in the global cocaine supply should put all of us on high alert,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said in a statement. “The potential for the cocaine market to expand in Africa and Asia is a dangerous reality. I urge governments and others to closely examine the report’s findings to determine how this transnational threat can be met with transnational responses based on awareness raising, prevention, and international and regional cooperation.”

New hubs for cocaine trafficking are emerging in Southeastern Europe and West and Central Africa, according to the report, with North Sea ports like Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg overtaking traditional entryways to Europe in Spain and Portugal. Traffickers in Central America are also diversifying their routes by sending more cocaine to Europe.

A submarine with two dead bodies and nearly three tons of cocaine aboard was seized in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Colombia, officials said. / Credit: Colombian Navy handout

A submarine with two dead bodies and nearly three tons of cocaine aboard was seized in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Colombia, officials said. / Credit: Colombian Navy handout

Alongside the rise in cocaine production, interceptions of the drug by law enforcement have also risen to record highs, the report notes, with a record 2,000 tons of cocaine seized in 2021.

“It is my hope that the report will support evidence-based strategies which stay ahead of future developments in cocaine production, trafficking, and use,” Angela Me, chief of the Research and Analysis Branch at UNODC, said in a statement.

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