The trade of illicit drugs is on the rise across Europe, and the sale of cocaine has increased dramatically, according to European law enforcement agency Europol.
The organisation said that a total of around 30 billion euros of various drugs were sold in Europe last year.
Europol said that cannabis accounted for 40 percent of the overall drug trade and 30 percent represented cocaine sales. Meanwhile, heroin was behind 25 percent of the drug deals, with amphetamines and ecstasy making up five percent of the trade.
Six years prior, in 2013, the agency estimated the value of drugs sold on the black market at around 24 billion euros, attributing one-quarter of the sales to cocaine.
Finnish police detective superintendent Risto Lohi said drug smuggling is on the rise in Finland, too.
"Drug imports have increased dramatically. According to our estimates, as much as 60 percent of narcotics produced in Colombia end up being imported into Europe," Lohi said, noting that increased cocaine levels have also been seen in Finland.
Cocaine use doubled in Finland
Lohi said recent drug investigations and seizures of narcotics shipments in Finland are an indication of the increase.
Last September local officials found 12 kg of cocaine hidden in a banana container at Vuosaari Harbour in eastern Helsinki. Meanwhile, last month police reported that a number of masked men had broken into a chemical warehouse in Espoo in search of a cocaine shipment.
According to police, both container shipments had arrived in Finland from South America.
"According to Europol these are indications that broadening organised crime across Europe will also start to increase in Finland," Lohi said.
According to regularly-measured wastewater tests, cocaine use in Finland doubled during the 2012-2018 period, but the drug is still relatively uncommon compared to European levels.
Lohi said that aside from the health risks that illegal drugs pose, the narcotics trade also poses other problems.
Drugs, youths and threats
"Drugs are central to organised crime groups, but these gangs also carry out other criminal activity, including weapons smuggling, illegal pharmaceutical sales, violence, corruption and in some cases human trafficking," Lohi explained.
According to the International Criminal Police Organisation, usually referred to as Interpol, proceeds from the illegal drug trade account for up to a quarter of major terrorist organisations' funding.
Terror groups like al-Shabaab, Islamic State and Boko Haram, to name a few, finance their activities with drug money. Lohi said that some drug gang members who are sent to prison end up being radicalised while serving time.
However, Finland's geography relative to the rest of Europe makes it a little more difficult to smuggle drugs into the country. Lohi said a good way to keep Finland safe is to observe what's going on in neighbouring countries.
"Street gangs involved with narcotics are a major problem in Sweden. Finland needs to improve its preventative work in order to ensure that similar gangs don't develop here," Lohi said.
Swedish authorities have reported that underage asylum seekers and those who have been denied asylum have faced exploitation by drug gangs in cities like Stockholm, Gothenburg and Uppsala. Europol said that organised crime groups have been known to threaten young Afghan men with violence, forcing them to sell drugs on the street.
The law enforcement agencies said that drug-related violence is a growing problem in Europe, and that drug gangs are known to have access to dangerous weapons like machine guns and grenades.
Dark web whack-a-mole
However drug deals increasingly take place online rather than on the street. According to Europol more than 100 anonymously-operated websites were found to be selling drugs on the dark web.
Sites on the dark web use the internet but need special software or authorisation to access them.
Previously, it was widely thought that dark web sites were impossible to track, but authorities have managed to shut down many drug dealing web pages and prosecuted the operators behind them.
"When major sites are shut down it seems like we have the upper hand. But since there is demand [for drugs], it doesn't take long before they find a new way of dealing. Then the drug trade continues again," Lohi said.