Cocaine Use Is Surging, UN Drug Report Says

While global production has grown to meet demand, police seizures are outpacing supply.
A customs officer opens a package of cocaine discovered by customs in a container
A customs officer opens a package of cocaine discovered by customs in a container. (Photo by Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images)

There are more people than ever using cocaine and production is at an all-time high, according to a report from the United Nations. 

The recently-published World Drug Report 2023 found that there were 22 million people who used cocaine in 2021, up from 21 million the previous year. Coca bush cultivation jumped from 234,200 hectares in 2020 to 315,000 ha in 2021. 


“The world is currently experiencing a prolonged surge in both supply and demand of cocaine, which is now being felt across the globe and is likely to spur the development of new markets beyond the traditional confines,” the report said. 

However, the report noted that cocaine seizures have outpaced production, with 2,026 tons seized in 2021, so the total amount of cocaine available for consumers was still a bit lower than in the mid-2000s. Still, production has risen steadily since 2015. 

While the report found that the Americas and Western and Central Europe still dominate the market, the drug’s usage is growing fast in Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe. 

“The criminal actors involved, including both groups at source and those orchestrating trafficking to destination markets, have diversified in line with the dynamics of competition, specialization and collaboration, ultimately leading to more efficient supply chains,” the report noted. 

As VICE News previously reported, traffickers are increasingly smuggling cocaine base by dissolving it into plastic and charcoal objects because it’s much harder to detect. They’re setting up more “super labs” in Europe where they extract the cocaine base out of those materials and turn it into powder. 

Laurent Laniel, principal scientific analyst at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, previously told VICE News scanners, X-rays, and K-9s usually can’t detect coke that’s been smuggled in this manner. 

He also said clandestine chemists can use certain chemicals to “lock” the cocaine base into the carrier products, making it impossible to retrieve the drug without knowing which chemical to use. 

According to the World Drug Report meth production is also expanding being traditional markets in East and Southeast Asia and the U.S., with labs detected in Southwest Asia, South Asia and Africa.

Correction: A previous version of this story said the UN report said there were 21 million cocaine users in 2021 and 20 million in 2020. In fact the report said there were 22 million users in 2021 and 21 million in 2020.