London hit with MDMA ‘drought’ because of shortage of lorry drivers

Drug supplies being impacted by Covid and Brexit - pa and getty for credit
A number of factors are thought to have impacted a recent shortage of MDMA (Picture: PA/Getty)

London is experiencing an MDMA ‘drought’ due to Covid and Brexit disrupting supply lines, experts say.

The wider drugs trade is thought to have been hit hard by the two issues for a number of months, but a recent reduction in heavy good vehicles (HGVs) transporting items across the UK is affecting supplies of some illegal substances.

The cocaine market has been particularly impacted over the last 18 months, while other areas outside the UK capital have also seen drugs shortages.

Numerous factors are involved and some experts are downplaying the impact of Covid and Brexit – adding that they may not be behind a record number of drugs deaths or any changes in purity levels.

But Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of drugs charity Release, told Metro.co.uk: ‘The availability of MDMA has been severely reduced in some parts of the UK, with people in London describing it as a drought.

‘This could certainly be a result of the reduction of HGVs carrying goods in from Europe, where illegal goods would usually be concealed amongst legal products, and where suppliers have prioritised getting in more lucrative drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.’

She explained: ‘Like many other goods that are imported into the UK, we are seeing the supply chain for some illicit substances affected, although as this is an unregulated market it is hard to pin it down… and it is likely the result of a number of different factors.’

Ecstasy tablets on white background
MDMA is a powder form of Ecstasy, which also come in pills (Picture: Getty Images)

Ms Eastwood did add that another aspect is likely to be England being one of the only European countries in which nightclubs are open.

She believes that could mean MDMA producers in the Netherlands – Europe’s main manufacturing area – may not see the industry as financially worthwhile until festivals and clubs return en masse.

Concerns have been raised that some suppliers could be using Cathinones – stimulants seen as ‘cousins’ of the amphetamine family of drugs – instead of MDMA.

The charity FRANK has cautioned that because Cathinones are still relatively new on the market, their risks are largely unknown.

But Professor Adam Winstock, the founder of the Global Drugs Survey, told Metro.co.uk that he did not think such substitutions were widespread – or that it could all be put down to Covid or Brexit.

An HGV lorry on the M4 motorway near Datchet, Berkshire.
Many drugs are thought to be smuggled around the UK in HGVs, but the number of lorries has been dropping (Picture: PA)

He also suggested it was unlikely to be a long term issue because of how cheap it is to produce high-quality MDMA.

Release’s Ms Eastwood added that the resilience shown by the broader drugs market during the Covid crisis had surprised observers, but there had been a particular impact on cocaine.

‘Prior to lockdown, cocaine was at the cheapest and purest we have ever seen,’ she explained.

‘During lockdown, purity remained largely high with some geographical variation across the country, but the price increased, which we think was largely a premium on risk pricing due to an increased likelihood of detection rather than any impact on the supply routes.

‘However, as we have come out of lockdowns and restrictions are easing, the price per kilo and purity are back to pre-Covid 19 levels.’


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She also expects the ‘destabilising impact’ that she says Brexit is currently causing drugs gangs to be ironed out, explaining: ‘If a global border shutdown did not prevent the supply of drugs into the UK, it is likely that suppliers will find a way around (Brexit) too.’

Her comments come amid a host of supply chain issues across the UK.

In July, a major chicken manufacturer warned that the country was facing the ‘worst food shortages since the war’ because of Brexit and Covid.

On Tuesday, Wetherspoons – whose founder heavily backed Brexit – was hit by beer shortages and, Coca Cola announced aluminium shortages were impacting some cans of coke on Thursday.

The Global Drugs Survey’s Professor Winstock says supply lines have been impacted by Covid and Brexit to some degree, but is not convinced the issues are to blame for recent overdoses or reported changes in drug quality.

Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, he said: ‘There has been a reduction in demand but supplies are likely to have been stockpiled.

‘There would have been an impact from a reduction in international transportation, which may have impacted upon precursor supply that might have contributed to contaminated pills.

‘(But) I think drug markets are pretty resilient and pill quality has remained steady.’

A reduction or increase in use of certain drugs during lockdown is also likely to have played a part in supply and demand.

Professor Winstock, who backs ‘smart education’ to reduce drugs harm, believes a bigger issue is people’s tolerance going down during lockdown and young people taking some drugs for the first time.

But this weekend, the Loop’s director Professor Fiona Measham told BBC Newsbeat that Covid, Brexit and a shortage of lorry drivers were causing fake MDMA to be sold to consumers.

‘A combination of those things mean there’s a shortage of certain party drugs and suppliers are selling other drugs instead – such as cathinone instead of MDMA’, she said, warning it could ‘lead to more drug-related harms’.

The Government has faced heavy criticism for supply chain issues in legal goods, with Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband telling ministers on Wednesday night to stop ‘burying their heads in the sand’ and ‘get a grip’.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

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