Albania is no stranger to drugs. It is well-known as a supplier of cannabis and Albanian criminal groups have made a reputation in cocaine trafficking. However, the production, trafficking and use of synthetic drugs has not been common in the country. But an increase in seizures of synthetic drugs in Albania suggests either that local demand for these substances is increasing or police are becoming more vigilant and effective in intercepting such drugs.1 Based on arrests, consumers seem to be mostly young people taking various amphetamine-type stimulants, such as MDMA tablets also referred to as Ecstasy. The trend corresponds with an increase in tourists flocking to the Albanian coast during the summer but is now spreading to other parts of the country.
According to the 2022 UNODC World Drug Report, the prevalence of Ecstasy use in South Eastern Europe is lower than in Western and central Europe.2 In Albania, a study published in 2022 by the Institute of Public Health shows that 7.4% of people aged 15 to 18 had consumed cannabis at least once; 4.2% had tried Ecstasy, 3.2% cocaine and 1.2% heroin.3 However, experts note that Albanian high school students are increasingly consuming Ecstasy.4
A leading indicator of the growing flow of synthetic drugs into Albania is an increase in Ecstasy seizures since 2021. As shown in Figure 1, almost no seizures were made between 2014 and 2021, while 2 200 grams were confiscated in 2022. In January 2023, Albanian authorities seized over 1 000 Ecstasy tablets that were ready for distribution in Tirana from three youths aged 17 to 25.5
Figure 1 Ecstasy seizures, 2014–2022, in grams.
Albanian State Police
Other relatively recent synthetic drug seizures in the country include over 97 kilograms of drug precursors (2015); 1 300 kilograms of Alpha-Phenylacetoacetonitrile precursor chemicals (2017); more than 3 litres of ketamine (2018); 95 grams and 19 tablets of methamphetamine (2020); 84 grams and 258 tablets of methadone (2021); and 481 grams of Ecstasy (2022).6 The relatively small amounts indicate that the drugs were likely to be destined for domestic consumption. Nevertheless, the seizure of 1 300 kilograms of precursors raises the possibility of larger-scale production.
There have also been isolated cases of local laboratories producing synthetic drugs. The most notorious case was in 2018 and involved two US citizens (one of Albanian origin) who were arrested while trying to set up a drug lab in Tirana.7
Where do the drugs come from?
Most of the amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances that are being smuggled into Albania seem to originate in Bulgaria, Serbia and North Macedonia,8 with additional small quantities coming from other European countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and the Czech Republic.9 There appears to be a growing availability of relatively cheap synthetic drugs in South Eastern Europe, as shown by a notable increase in production in Serbia and North Macedonia.10 A record quantity of more than 1 tonne of the precursors needed to produce amphetamine-type stimulants was seized in a joint operation by authorities from North Macedonia and Turkey in February 2022 at Skopje International Airport. The chemicals were sent from Shanghai through Istanbul.11
There are also signs of increased production of LSD in Serbia and North Macedonia, which is feeding the local market in Albania.12 It is suspected that a portion of these drugs and their precursors are smuggled with the complicity of pharmaceutical companies.13 The Albanian National Agency for Medicines and Medical Devices has been criticized for exercising insufficient controls and failing to eradicate counterfeit medicine,14 which might also facilitate the smuggling of precursors.
A major rise in tourism may have contributed to higher consumption and trafficking of synthetic drugs in Albania. The country is an increasingly popular destination for tourists – the number of foreign visitors more than doubled from 3.4 million in 2014 to 7 million in 2022.15 There are also more music festivals being organized in the country, which are popular for synthetic drug consumption. However, what started mostly as a tourist fad seems to have crossed over to the local population, particularly among youth in big cities. For example, Tirana’s city centre, where most clubs are located and youth regularly gather, is known as a hub for buying, selling and consuming synthetic drugs.16
Who is distributing the drugs?
Arrests of Albanian and foreign nationals for trafficking and distributing Ecstasy are becoming more common. Most perpetrators are young people caught distributing synthetic drugs close to schools, universities and night clubs. Drugs are also being sold via social media. In January 2023, three youngsters (including a 17-year-old) were arrested in Tirana after being caught with 1 007 Ecstasy tablets, which authorities suspect were imported from the Netherlands.17 In 2019, a 24-year-old who had targeted high school and university students was arrested in Shkodra with 990 Ecstasy tablets.18 The same year, a 22-year-old was arrested for distribution of 100 Ecstasy tablets in Vlora.19 Other dealers are older, but also target young people. In 2022, a 52-year-old was arrested in Dhërmi (a popular summer destination for young people) for possession of 4 840 Ecstasy tablets, MDMA, ketamine, amphetamine, LSD and suspected cocaine.20
Foreign nationals have also been caught possessing and distributing drugs, primarily after music festivals.21 Most recently, in June 2023, nine foreign nationals were arrested in Dhërmi for distribution of synthetic drugs. Around €45 000 in cash in various currencies was seized.22
Although the use of synthetic drugs in Albania currently seems relatively minor, there is clearly an upward trend. This is a new phenomenon and therefore requires quick action to raise awareness – particularly about the types of drugs and their harms – and set up treatment facilities. In addition, police need better capacity to identify hotspots and traffickers, exchange information on drug types with foreign colleagues, and improve testing for synthetic drugs and precursors. Since this problem seems to stem in large part from external factors such as increased tourism and drug production in neighbouring countries, preventive and remedial action to address it effectively could benefit from cooperation with regional countries as well as external partners.
Interview with a high representative of the Albanian State Police, Tirana, April 2023. ↩ UNODC, Drug market trends: Cocaine, amphetamine type stimulants, new psychoactive substances, World Drug Report 2022, June 2022, https://www.unodc.org/res/wdr2022/MS/WDR22_Booklet_4.pdf. ↩ Edicioni I Lajmeve Tv Klan 4 Prill 2022, ora 19:30 Lajme – News, RTV Klan, 4 April 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5sBRCFT5hY. ↩ Ibid.; Drogat sintetike vrasin, po shtohet përdorimi i ekstazi në vendin tonë, Top Channel, 26 March 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMOJepNF00E; interview with a high representative of the Albanian State Police, Tirana, April 2023. ↩ Shpërndanin lëndë narkotike ekstazi në Tiranë, arrestohen 3 persona, ABC News, 22 January 2023, https://abcnews.al/shperndanin-lende-narkotike-ekstazi-ne-tirane-arrestohen-3-persona/. ↩ Albanian State Police, Statistics of seized precursors and synthetic drugs 2013–2022, March 2023. ↩ Arrestohen dy amerikane ne Morine, shkaterrohet baza e droges, ABC News, 26 September 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zPFgx8INEY. ↩ Interview with a high representative of the Albanian State Police, Tirana, April 2023. ↩ Walter Kemp, Kristina Amerhauser and Ruggero Scaturro, Spot Prices: Analyzing flows of people, drugs and money in the Western Balkans, GI-TOC, May 2021, https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Spot-Prices-Analyzing-flows-of-people-drugs-and-money-in-the-Western-Balkans.pdf. ↩ Ibid. ↩ SELEC, The North Macedonian and Turkish law enforcement authorities made one of the biggest seizure of synthetic drugs in Southeast, 17 February 2022, https://www.selec.org/the-north-macedonian-and-turkish-law-enforcement-authorities-made-one-of-the-biggest-seizure-of-synthetic-drugs-in-southeast/. ↩ Interview with a high representative of the Albanian State Police, Tirana, April 2023. ↩ Interview with a prosecutor in Albania, 6 February 2023. ↩ Ilaçet kontrabandë, ekspertët: Mungojnë ilaçet origjinalë, tregu i mbushur me barna joefektivë, Euronews Albania, 26 October 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bt9XAOxpxP8. ↩ Institute of statistics, Turizme, https://www.instat.gov.al/al/temat/industria-tregtia-dhe-sh%C3%ABrbimet/turizmi/#tab2. ↩ Ekstazi nga Holanda për lokalet e natës në Tiranë, Lajme News, RTV Klan, 23 January 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl8i6_n6KQE. ↩ Shpërndanin drogë nëpër Tiranë, arrestohen tre të rinj, mes tyre një 17-vjeçar. Në kërkim bashkëpunëtori, Panorama, 22 January 2023, http://www.panorama.com.al/shperndanin-droge-neper-tirane-arrestohen-tre-te-rinj-mes-tyre-nje-17-vjecar-ne-kerkim-bashkepunetori/. ↩ Sekuestrohen 990 tableta ekstazi, pranga 24 vjeçarit, ABC News, 28 May 2019, https://abcnews.al/sekuestrohen-990-tableta-ekstazi-pranga-24-vjecarit/. ↩ Sekuestrohen 100 kokrra ekstazi dhe euro në Vlorë, Ora News, 24 June 2019, https://www.oranews.tv/article/sekuestrohen-100-kokrra-ekstazi-dhe-euro-ne-vlore. ↩ Shiste drogëra të forta në lokalet e Dhërmiut, arrestohet 52-vjeçari, Top Channel, 14 September 2022, https://top-channel.tv/2022/09/14/shiste-drogera-te-forta-ne-lokalet-e-dhermiut-arrestohet-52-vjecari/. ↩ Kontrolle në Lezhë-Shëngjin/ Kapen me kokainë dhe ekstazi në makina 3 persona që jetojnë në Norvegji, Itali dhe Kosovë, Top Channel, 26 September 2021, https://top-channel.tv/2021/09/26/kontrolle-ne-lezhe-shengjin-kapen-me-kokaine-dhe-ekstazi-ne-makina-3-persona-qe-jetojne-ne-norvegji-itali-dhe-kosove/. ↩ Erdhën turistë, arrestohen për shpërndarës droge, TV Klan, 13 June 2023, https://tvklan.al/erdhen-turiste-arrestohen-per-shperndares-droge/. ↩