Drug trafficking into Malta has been hit hard because of the COVID-19 outbreak, with experts and police trying to analyse how this will impact the availability and quality of drugs sold on the streets.  

Narcotics expert Godwin Sammut, who tests all drug seizures made by the Maltese authorities, told Times of Malta that since coronavirus started to spread across Europe there had been an overall drop in drugs brought in for analysis at his lab.

Sammut, who lectures at the University of Malta’s Chemistry Department, said this could result in dealers using additives to bulk up the existing supply already on the island in order to continue to meet demand from users. 

“We could end up seeing local drugs becoming increasingly diluted, leading to ‘weaker’ drugs or perhaps more dangerous depending on the kinds of additives are used. But it is still too early in the day to see this trend as we do not have enough seizures being brought in to be able to test,” he said. 

“Still, it is an interesting development and we will be monitoring to see the way the market changes,” he added.

Sources at the police drugs’ squad said there had been a decline in the supply of narcotics into the island. This, they said, applied to both the actual seizures as well as intelligence linked to the illegal trade. 

We could end up seeing local drugs becoming increasingly diluted

The police sources said the dip in fresh deliveries was caused because the main routes used to smuggle drugs into the island had been shut off.

“The catamaran from Sicily has stopped, flights have largely stopped. There is still shipping, however, we haven’t had any significant finds there in recent weeks,” one officer said.

Another officer said that different drugs had been impacted differently by the closure of borders and restrictions on transportation, however, he was reluctant to get into specifics.  

The drugs squad sources both agreed, however, that as borders close, the supply and distribution of most drugs across the EU was becoming more difficult.

A joint briefing on the narcotics trade by the EU’s drugs agency and Europol, given just before large swathes of Europe went into lockdown, had warned of a potential spike in drug shipments.

This, police sources said, was meant to keep law enforcement agencies on the lookout as drug traffickers tried to get significant quantities of narcotics into Europe before borders were closed.

No such large shipments had been identified being brought into Malta, but the sources did not rule out that there could very well be some stockpile held by dealers on the island. 

Sammut said the dip in availability was particularly true of drugs that rely on ingredients sourced in China.

Synthetic cannabinoids – copycat cannabis known as ‘Spice’ – had completely disappeared from Malta in recent weeks, he said.  

Laboratory-made stimulants posing as popular party drugs cocaine and MDMA – the active ingredient in ecstasy pills, had also been hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) recently issued advice to users on drug-taking in the time of coronavirus.

While drug users run the same risks of infection by COVID-19 as the general population, they also face additional risks, the agency warned. 

For instance, Europe’s ageing cohort of opioid users are particularly vulnerable because of their high level of pre-existing health problems and lifestyle factors.

Recreational drug use often takes place within settings in which individuals congregate together and drugs or drug equipment may be shared, posing a greater risk of infection. Because COVID-19, like any severe lung infection, can cause breathing difficulties, there may be an increase in the risk of overdose among opioid users, the EMCDDA said.

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