Fewer drugs labs dismantled as criminals are forced to change tack

Police broke up fewer drugs labs in 2020 than in previous years after intercepting several criminal gangs and focusing on the heroin and cocaine trade.

Last year police discovered 93 labs where synthetic drugs were produced or heroin and cocaine were processed, latest figures show. In 69 of the locations XTC and crystal meth were produced.

Most of the labs were situated in Noord Brabant, Noord Holland, Limburg and Gelderland, but the bulk of the heroin and cocaine processing labs – 21 in all – were in Noord and Zuid-Holland.

‘In the last two years we have been able to access encrypted phone services such as EncroChat, Sky and ANOM and disable a number of criminal networks,’ police drugs chief Willem Woelders said.

‘These were responsible for a large part of the production of synthetic drugs and cocaine processing, both here and abroad.’

Woelders said the networks had been hit hard because organisers and other network members were caught in the police operation. ‘They will be harder to replace, Woelders said.

However, Woelders said he did not doubt others would take their place. ‘Criminals are busy people and if the demand is there they will satisfy it. They are also communicating via different encrypted services and apps, such as Telegraph and Signal. It is a game of cat and mouse but we are on to them,’ he said.

Waste and weed

More batches of synthetic drugs waste were found, with the 208 cases representing a 14% rise on the previous year. But Woelders said the increase was due to smaller amounts of waste being dumped more frequently.

‘We think the total volume is smaller,’ he said. ‘But we know that drug-related waste is disposed of in different ways. It may be burned or neutralised and flushed down the drain.’

Police also dismantled fewer marijuana plantations in 2021, but that trend was attributed to a shortage of dedicated police personnel in recent years.

Some 2,285 plantations were put out of action compared to 4,600 in 2017. The focus has shifted to combating hard drugs, Woelders said, meaning there is not enough capacity to crack down on marijuana plantations.

‘That is worrying because marijuana plantations can cause dangerous situations when they are situated in private homes,’ he said. ‘And billions are being made in the soft drug trade as well. It’s one big drugs market and everything is connected.’

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