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The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the leading authority on illicit drugs in the European Union.
EU Drug Market: Amphetamine describes the European amphetamine market from production and trafficking, to distribution and use. It details the processes, materials and actors involved at different stages and levels of the market. Taking a threat assessment approach, the module identifies key issues and makes recommendations for action at EU and Member State level.
This resource is a module of EU Drug Markets: In-depth analysis, the fourth comprehensive overview of illicit drug markets in the European Union by the EMCDDA and Europol.
Key findings and threat assessment
Effects, risks and harms of use
Actions to address current threats and increase preparedness
Amphetamine is the most common synthetic stimulant drug available on the European drug market and it competes with cocaine and a range of new psychoactive substances for a share of the profitable European Union (EU) stimulant drug market. The prevalence of amphetamine use is higher than methamphetamine in most EU Member States, with notable exceptions, such as Czechia and Slovakia. Illicit amphetamine products mostly consist of powders or pastes, usually mixed with other ingredients, such as lactose, dextrose or caffeine, but tablets containing amphetamine are also available. The estimated annual value of the retail market for amphetamine in the EU is at least EUR 1.1 billion, with a range of EUR 0.9 billion to EUR 1.4 billion.
The demand for amphetamine in the EU is met by European production concentrated largely in the Netherlands and Belgium, where production is complex, large-scale and based on the drug precursor BMK. BMK has some limited use in industry and can be diverted from legitimate sources or smuggled into the EU, but more frequently it is made from chemicals known as designer precursors imported from China. Some of the amphetamine produced in the EU is used to produce captagon tablets, which are mainly trafficked to consumer markets in the Middle East.
Amphetamine is a relatively inexpensive stimulant drug with a large stable market in the EU, estimated to be worth a minimum of EUR 1.1 billion annually. Production is concentrated in Belgium and the Netherlands and amphetamine oil may be trafficked to other countries for conversion into the consumable sulfate salt. The main production method uses BMK as a starting material, which can be imported as such or obtained from designer precursors, often through front companies. The provision of the chemicals and equipment are key elements of amphetamine production and parallel criminal infrastructures have been created to deliver this essential logistic support. The production process is hazardous and results in substantial quantities of chemical waste.
Europe is a major global market for amphetamine, and it is consumed mainly as a powder or paste. It is mainly trafficked overland and small quantities can be sent in the post or using parcel services. The other global market for amphetamine is the Arabian Peninsula, where it is consumed in the form of captagon tablets. Occasionally large quantities of captagon tablets are trafficked from Lebanon and Syria through EU ports on their way to the consumer markets in the Arabian Peninsula. Captagon tablet production is not frequently encountered within the EU.
There is a potential that the conversion of amphetamine oil to consumable amphetamine sulfate spreads to EU countries that were not yet affected by this phenomenon. This implies the oil will be trafficked from production centres and processed in illicit laboratories in the destination country. The large consumer market for captagon tablets in the Arabian Peninsula may drive an increase in captagon tablet production in the EU.
The latest data at the global level, based on self-reporting from general population surveys, suggest that in 2021 an estimated 36 million people used amphetamine or methamphetamine. The global amphetamine market is far smaller than the methamphetamine market, accounting for 16 % of global seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants between 2017 and 2021, while methamphetamine represented 70 %. More than half of the total amount of amphetamine seized in this period was seized in the Near and Middle East and South West Asia, while Europe accounted for just under a quarter (24 %) of the amount seized. Combined, these two regions represented 83 % of the quantity seized globally. Amphetamine can therefore largely be regarded as a drug predominantly present in drug markets in the Near and Middle East, where it takes the form of captagon tablets, and Europe, where it is mainly used as powder or paste. More recently, Western Africa has also recorded captagon seizures, but the information available is not sufficient to consider it a newly established transit area. Despite amphetamine’s relatively minor global significance, between 2010 and 2021, the quantities seized increased almost six times, from 19.4 tonnes to 114 tonnes. Of these, 90 tonnes were captagon seizures, which constitute record high amounts and evidence of a flourishing market.
At the global level, Europe is a key producer of amphetamine and, overall, the amphetamine consumed in the EU is believed to be exclusively produced domestically. Production of the drug results in health risks, environmental damage and high clean-up costs. Most of the manufacturing takes place in the Netherlands and Belgium, in illicit laboratories where other synthetic drugs may also be produced. There are also indications that Dutch criminal networks have expanded their production activities to Germany and potentially to other EU countries. Furthermore, some evidence exists to suggest that captagon tablets are also produced in the EU, mainly in the Netherlands. Production facilities are often set up in remote regions, on farms or in warehouses, where the risks of detection are lower. The Leuckart method, which requires BMK (or any of its alternative chemicals), is the most common way of producing amphetamine in Europe. The BMK is typically produced in Europe from alternative chemicals that are trafficked from China. However, European producers appear to have recently optimised existing methods and expanded production methods in the direction of less frequently encountered synthesis routes.
While less is known about amphetamine trafficking compared to production, trafficking within the EU presents a complex and dynamic picture, with many criminal groups and individuals involved. Trafficking within the EU is primarily carried out using land transportation methods, as well as postal and parcel services. Consignments most often depart from the main production hubs in the Netherlands or in neighbouring Belgium or Germany. Amphetamine has been found in shipments along with other synthetic drugs, as well as cocaine, cannabis or heroin. The quantity of amphetamine seized in the EU had remained relatively stable – estimated at between 4 and 6 tonnes per year – until 2019 and 2020, when Greece and Italy seized 9.6 tonnes and 14.2 tonnes, respectively, of captagon tablets in transit to the Arabian Peninsula. EU countries are mainly involved as transhipment points between captagon-producing countries outside the EU, such as Lebanon and Syria, and destination markets in and around the Arabian Peninsula.
Criminal networks involved in the illicit amphetamine trade are business-oriented, cooperative and adaptable. On occasion they may use each other’s resources and infrastructure or participate in joint criminal ventures. Dutch criminal networks remain the main producers of synthetic drugs in the EU, including amphetamine, and are also active in Belgium and possibly other EU countries, working with distributors across the EU and worldwide. Criminal networks and suspects originating from the Baltic countries engage in the small- to mid-scale production of amphetamine in the region and are involved in the distribution of synthetic drugs, especially to the Nordic countries. Some criminal networks act as service providers and specialise in the supply of alternative chemicals and reagents or offer a broad range of other services for EU-based producers. Producers and traffickers establish, acquire or infiltrate legal business structures to facilitate production, trafficking and distribution. Corruption, violence and money laundering are other notable features of the amphetamine market, although the latter is largely an intelligence gap.
Amphetamine is a relatively inexpensive stimulant drug. Low-priced, high-purity amphetamine is found on the retail market in Belgium and the Netherlands, likely due to high levels of production of amphetamine in these countries. The average purities reported by Belgium and the Netherlands increased between 2018 and 2020, possibly as a result of improvements made in the production process. Countries reporting above-average prices and purities, namely Czechia, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden, have historically been associated with high levels of use of synthetic stimulant drugs. However, the majority of countries for which data are available fall into the low-price and low-purity category, reflecting the presence of a lower- grade of amphetamine in those markets, either due to adulteration or some other production-related reason. When adulterated, amphetamine tends to be cut with caffeine, although other non-psychoactive bulking substances may also be present. Wholesale amphetamine prices, including amphetamine base oil prices, are monitored, which may provide useful information on market dynamics.
The minimum estimated annual value of the retail market for amphetamine in the EU is EUR 1.1 billion. Estimates suggest that about 90 tonnes of amphetamine and methamphetamine (combined total) were consumed in the EU in 2021, with frequent users believed to account for approximately 97 % of the total amount. Importantly, it is difficult to accurately gauge the size of the amphetamine retail market because in some countries it is not possible to separate amphetamine from methamphetamine in the relevant datasets. Among drug law offences where the drug is known, amphetamine offences represent about 5 % of all offences reported in 2021. However, some Member States and Türkiye separately report drug law offences related to captagon tablets, and as such these are not included in the total number of amphetamine offences. In 2021, amphetamine residues found in wastewater were found to be distributed more evenly over the whole week than in previous years, possibly reflecting the use of these drugs being associated with more regular consumption by a cohort of high-risk users.
Amphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant that causes hypertension and tachycardia, with feelings of increased confidence, sociability and energy. Fatalities directly attributed to amphetamine are rare but do occur across the EU. Analyses of the residues from used syringes collected in several European cities show that injection of amphetamine is mainly found in cities in the north of the EU. The injection of amphetamine carries the same viral infection hazards (e.g. HIV and hepatitis) as are found with other injectable drugs such as heroin. Injection is reported as a common route of administration for amphetamine in Finland, Norway, Poland and Sweden. People who seek treatment for stimulant use problems primarily use either cocaine or amphetamine. Those seeking treatment for problems associated with the use of amphetamines are heterogeneous in terms of their social conditions and modes of use. In 2021, just under 5 000 clients entering specialised drug treatment in Europe reported amphetamine as their primary drug.
Strategic priority areas emerge from this analysis that will address the health and security problems associated with the amphetamine market. Broadly, they involve improving the intelligence picture on reducing production trafficking and distribution in the EU, and include focussing on flows of captagon tablets.
The intelligence picture will be improved through further enhancing the exchange of operational and strategic information on amphetamine sulfate, amphetamine base oil, captagon tablets and also designer precursors and essential chemicals. Linked to this are the legal business structures used or established to support amphetamine production and the money flows associated with the amphetamine market more generally.
Reducing amphetamine supply and enhancing security will be achieved by ensuring that cross-border investigations tackle the entire production chain for amphetamine and are focussed on high-value targets. The cooperation mechanisms established at EU-level should be fully engaged for this purpose. Strong international cooperation is also a priority. In particular, cooperation within the EU, but also with countries that feature in the precursor and chemical supply chain and with countries that are linked to the production and trafficking of captagon tablets.
In terms of EU preparedness, capacity-building is an essential element. It is important to increase awareness of the threats related to amphetamine, as detailed in this report. Promoting the use of forensic techniques such as drug profiling will further improve the intelligence picture. Also, training and access to equipment are required for the safe dismantling of illicit synthetic drug laboratories and to ensure a professional investigation.
To strengthen policy, public health and safety responses, a re-prioritisation on prevention, harm reduction and treatment is needed to reduce the demand for amphetamine. In addition, more research is needed on the impact of amphetamine production and use on the environment in order to develop commensurate responses.
© EMCDDA, Europol, 2023 For further information on copyright and reuse, please see our legal notice.
Methodology: Read more about the methodology used to collect data in this analysis.
References: Consult the list of references used in this module.
Abbreviations: Consult the list of acronyms and other abbreviations used in EU Drug Markets: In-depth analysis.
Figures: Consult the list of figures included in this module.
Photo credits: Introduction; Key findings and threat assessment; Global context; Criminal networks; Prices and purities; Retail markets; Effects, risk and harms of use; Actions to address current threats (istockphoto.com). Production in Europe; Trafficking and supply (Belgian Federal Police).
Recommended citation: European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol (2023), EU Drug Market: Amphetamine — In-depth analysis, https://www.emcdda.europa.eu/publications/eu-drug-markets/amphetamine_en
HTML: TD-05-23-033-EN-Q ISBN: 978-92-9497-851-6 DOI: 10.2810/048660
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