July 31, 2021

The health crisis has led to uberization of drug trafficking

Paris, Thursday, June 10, 2021 – In the early hours of strict confinements and border closures in spring 2020, many were interested in the impact of these measures on the activity of drug traffickers. While these illicit activities were inevitably disrupted, they quickly reorganized themselves.

This is stated in the annual report of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). Thus, unsurprisingly, traffickers have shown great adaptability to respond to supply difficulties, for example by favoring sea shipments hidden in containers.

The party drugs are erased, those of anguish explode

However, concerning the type of products consumed, the health crisis seems to have led to a decline in certain drugs more often associated with the recreational context, such as MDMA. At the same time, there is a worrying increase in the misuse of benzodiazepines or anxiolytics, which could be both the consequence of the increase in mental health disorders and the reorientation towards products that are easier to find. This change in substance types echoes that in consumer profiles: occasional users seem to experience a decline in their consumption, while among regular users, it is increasing.

Timeless cannabis and cocaine

Beyond these trends, the drug use landscape in Europe in 2020 is still marked by a predominance of cannabis. The report states that it remains the number one drug used with more than 22 million consumers. The Observatory also emphasizes the increase in the average THC content, which has almost doubled compared to ten years ago. Alexis Goosdeel, director of EMCDDA also points out the growing use of synthetic cannabinoids or the sale of e-cigarette liquids containing 95% THC. Another constant in the panorama: cocaine is more and more present, with each year new records of seizures. This trend favors the increase in the consumption of crack, the consequences of which in terms of public health and safety are alerting many European capitals, including Paris.

Snapchat: new point of deal?

If the epidemic context has not therefore radically changed the inventory, the EMCDDA nevertheless insists on the acceleration of what is called ” uberization Of drug trafficking. This is the increasingly massive use of new modes of communication by dealers and their customers. The phenomenon in reality is not new and had already been pinpointed in 2019 by the French Observatory for Drugs and Drug Addiction. However, it is true that the last few months have seen an increase in cases involving the use of social networks, in particular Snapchat and WhatsApp. Less than a month ago, the Minister of the Interior even openly urged those in charge of the first network to increase their vigilance. Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel had assured in the columns of theObs : « We have always taken the safety of our community very seriously. We have invested a lot, and for a very long time, in monitoring all the exchanges on the platform concerning drug trafficking. And we are already working with the local authorities and with NGOs to identify and arrest the dealers ”, but recalled the difficulty of the task: “We must constantly develop detection tools because new words are constantly being invented to talk about drugs while hiding from the authorities. This is why we are working with the police, to be very quick in our adaptation, to better detect them and remove them from the platform. This is a very important issue for us and we are working on it a lot ».

Uberization, transformation of traffic, or a simple extension?

If the authorities are so worried about what is sometimes called Uber shit, it is because of the increased difficulty of tracking down deals. The risk that new people will be drawn into the sale of narcotics in a difficult economic context is also mentioned. However, not all share this perception and dispute the relevance of this focus on this uberization. Thus, in a column published on the site The Conversation, Sonny Perseil, director of research in political science and management science (CNAM) remarks: “ The fact that social networks promote discretion and trivialization of drug trade transactions is problematic (…). A first observation, first of all, relating to the repression of trafficking: as evidenced by “multiple media cases” the use of social networks in no way offers impunity to dealers, and whatever the techniques used, the risk of getting caught continues. Additional facilities are sometimes even offered to the police, who, under certain conditions, can pass themselves off as buyers, much more easily than in the street. Moreover, does this type of method dry up the more traditional trafficking of what is sometimes called “drug supermarkets”, these almost institutionalized deal sites, sometimes known to the police for a long time, like us? showed it already in a survey published in 2003? Apparently not: no study shows a decrease in the number of deal points due to the solicitation of these new technologies, nor any link with a possible increase in the consumption of narcotics. », He notes. He further notices that ” According to OFDT (September 2020) “, These traffics based on social networks are”
the expression of the adaptation of traditional sectors to the realities of demand in large cities and of the desire to develop less visible practices ».

What if it was better?

From the point of view of the nuisances linked to drug trafficking, Sonny Perseil still observes: “ The use of social networks appears to have significant benefits for society as a whole. First of all, they effectively make it possible to avoid transactions in the street, which are risky not only for the trafficker, but above all for the user, who can sometimes be confronted with armed criminal groups and find himself involved in violence, even brawls. From the point of view of consumption, we also notice, on social networks, that sales are sometimes accompanied by information (admittedly not controlled) on the nature of the products, which is not the case outside . Above all, these procedures make it possible to avoid the nuisances caused to residents and inhabitants of the areas affected by the heaviest traffic. »He analyzes.

While it is unlikely that these considerations will lead the Minister of the Interior to qualify his speech, they nevertheless make it possible to recall the importance of not leaving reflection parasitized by phenomena which, if they are striking in the media, may not be. not necessarily be medically and socially relevant.

Aurélie Haroche