Cocaine prices drop as smugglers find new routes

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The Independent Online

The price of cocaine is set to fall further as traffickers exploit new smuggling routes, an international drugs agency warned today.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said cocaine prices would continue to fall unless action was taken to block supply routes through West Africa and Eastern Europe.

South American drug producers are switching supplies from the Caribbean and North Atlantic to avoid Royal Navy and US authorities, its annual report found.

Stockpiles of the drug are building up in West Africa from where it is shipped to the UK and the rest of Europe either directly or via the Balkans.

Traffickers are loading commercial flights with "large numbers" of drug mules swallowing as much as a kilogram of cocaine each, the report warns.

This "shotgun approach" makes it more difficult for police and customs officials to spot every mule.

The report also highlights concerns over cannabis use. The UK tops the European league table of cannabis use by teenagers.

Around 44 per cent of 15 to 16-year-olds admit taking the drug, compared to less than 10 per cent in Norway.

But the authors highlight "significant" falls in cannabis use by that age group in England, by around 4 per cent between 2001 and 2007.

And they welcome the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis in to Class B because of fears over the impact of strong "skunk" strains on the mental health of young people.

British youngsters are also being targeted by illegal online pharmacies selling heroin substitute, the report warns.

The unlicensed pharmacies sell methadone, codeine, and other stimulants without prescription.

President Hamid Ghodse said: "In the UK in the last two or three years there have been some seizures from these illicit pharmacies who have been active in selling within the UK and elsewhere."

Cocaine prices have plummeted in recent years and official figures uncovered last week showed a line of cocaine now costs as little as £1.

The West Africa trafficking route needs to be "urgently addressed", the report states.

Mr Ghodse said: "I think prices are likely to fall providing the governments don't step up their efforts to intercept supplies."

He added: "The amount of cocaine production in the three major countries that do it - Columbia, Peru and Bolivia, has not reduced.

"It has still remained the same but also there is better quality of the cocaine.

"Therefore the amount which gets in to Europe has risen over the past few years.

"The route of transporting for traffickers has become relatively easier and less susceptible to interdiction."

Shadow home affairs minister James Brokenshire said: "Drug crime has rocketed under Labour and the Government has failed to secure our porous borders.

"Cocaine and heroin are being sold at ten-year-low prices and it's deeply disturbing to think that hard drug supply into the UK may increase further.

"The drug dealers have flourished whilst the Government has floundered.

"Topping the European league table for teenage cannabis is a shocking indictment.

"The health risks of psychosis, paranoia and long term mental health issues are becoming ever clearer and we are storing up significant problems for the future.

"What we need is a proper border police force to stop the drugs getting into this country, better rehab to help drug users beat their addiction and education focused on preventing youngsters taking up drugs.