The massive surge in cocaine seizures is a telling sign that the drug is more available than ever in Europe, stated the EU narcotics agency.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's annual report also noted massive heroin seizures and a scaling-up of synthetic drug production.
During the Covid-19 outbreak, organised crime groups had "quickly adapted their modi operandi" to keep up the cultivation, smuggling and sale of drugs.
"There are fears that innovative drug distribution models developed during lockdown, along with the economic impact of the pandemic on vulnerable communities, will add to the challenges already posed by an abundant supply of drugs," the agency said.
Increased seizures of large quantities of cocaine, cannabis resin and heroin — transported by sea — raised concerns that organised crime was infiltrating legitimate supply chains, shipping routes and large ports.
Cocaine purity has increased and cocaine seizures were at an all-time high of 181 tonnes in 2018, the year for which data is examined in the 2020 report, some 40 tonnes more than in 2017.
"Indicators point to high availability of cocaine on the European market and signs of growth in countries where it was previously uncommon," the report said.
Synthetics on the rise
The volume of heroin seized in the EU nearly doubled from 2017 to 2018, the report added.
While street dealing had been affected by restrictions during the height of the pandemic, it said consumers and dealers had been turning to online "darknet" markets, social media and home delivery.
Smuggling by plane declined, but trafficking by ship "continued at pre-pandemic levels", it said.
Seizures and intelligence data did not suggest "any immediate major disruption" to drug trafficking activities using methods such as concealing drugs in shipping containers.