According to the UN, cocaine production is at its highest level on record

A customs officer takes a sample of some of the confiscated cocaine from the largest single cocaine seizure in Bavaria to date, which is examined with a test tube.

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Cocaine production is at its highest level on record, with post-pandemic demand surging and new trading hubs emerging, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The United Nations Global Report on Cocaine 2023 says that over the past two years, new smuggling hubs have emerged in West and Central Africa in the multi-billion dollar industry. New improvements and innovations in the cultivation of the coca bush and the switch from the coca plant to cocaine have also contributed to the production boom – which has grown by 35% between 2021 and 2022 to a record level.

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“The Covid-19 pandemic has been disruptive to drug markets. With international travel severely restricted, manufacturers struggled to get their product to market. Nightclubs and bars have been shut down as officials step up efforts to combat the virus, leading to a slump in demand for drugs like cocaine,” the report said.

“However, the latest data suggests that this slump had little impact on longer-term trends. The global supply of cocaine is at record levels,” it said. Nearly 2,000 tons of cocaine were produced in 2020, a continuation of a “dramatic increase in manufacturing that began in 2014 when totals were less than half of today’s levels,” the report said.

Cultivation of coca bushes doubled between 2013 and 2017 and then rose sharply again in 2021, the report said. The process of converting coca bush into cocaine hydrochloride was also significantly improved.

Cocaine production requires steeping of harvested coca leaves in gasoline and other chemicals such as ether, sulfuric acid, ammonia to allow extraction of cocaine hydrochloride. The gasoline and solvents are then drained off and the cocaine base solidifies into a paste that is boiled until the liquid and other chemicals have evaporated, creating “bricks” containing cocaine hydrochloride.

These bricks are packaged and resold, and processed with additional chemicals like hydrochloric acid, ammonia, and potassium salt to make cocaine powder.

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