Reality Check: Is UK the drugs capital of Europe?

There have been 52 murders in the capital so far this year – and MP David Lammy says the drugs trade is driving a rise in violence.

“We are the drugs market of Europe,” Mr Lammy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Tottenham MP added that the UK’s drugs market was worth £11bn, and London was at its centre.

This figure comes from the National Crime Agency, which says that drug trafficking to the UK costs an estimated £10.7 billion per year.

This actually refers to the cost to the public purse of illegal drug use – in treating people in the NHS, the costs to the courts of dealing with offences, thefts by drug users and so on – rather than the worth of the market.

The Home Office has estimated the illegal drugs market to be worth £5.3bn.

Like any illegal activity, finding reliable data can be tricky, but piecing together the evidence certainly suggests the UK does have a significant drugs market.

Almost one in 10 adults said they’d used an illegal drug in the last year, which gives a sense of the scale.

In 2014, the Office for National Statistics said illegal drugs added £4.4bn to the UK economy.

  • Reality Check: Could legalising cannabis raise £1bn?

    In England and Wales, a confidential household survey asks people whether they have used an illegal drug in the last year.

    Respondents fill in the survey themselves – the idea is to reassure people the survey is confidential in order to make the responses more reliable.

    A fictional drug is included in the survey to try to weed out people being untruthful in their responses.

    The latest figures show around 8.5% adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales took an illegal drug in the year 2016-17. This is much lower than ten years ago.

    • Heroin deaths highest in Blackpool and coastal areas
    • Why is heroin killing so many people?

      In Scotland, the latest figures for 2014-15 found 6% of adults said they had used one or more illegal drug in the last year.

      Of 25 European countries that submitted data last year, the UK had the seventh highest proportion of its residents saying they had taken an illegal drug in the last year, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

      It had the highest proportion of cocaine users, however, and the third for ecstasy.

      But we don’t just have to rely on whether people say they are taking drugs or not.

      Analysis of sewage highlights London’s place as one of Europe’s leading users of illegal drugs.

      By measuring traces of drugs in sewage systems, the Sewage Analysis CORe Group Europe (SCORE) has been able to measure drug-taking habits in more than 50 European cities.

      • ‘McMafia gangs’ behind London crime wave
      • The names and faces of those killed in London

        In 2016, when London last participated, the city came second only to Antwerp in cocaine usage – although it does vary year on year. Barcelona, Zurich and Amsterdam also have relatively high drug use.

        In the three years before, London was number one, and still comes out on top for cocaine use on weekdays.

        However, variations might also be linked to differences in purity as well as quantity of usage.

        For example, drug purity on average in Belgium is 78% compared with 44% in UK, which could partly explain how Antwerp topped the charts for how much cocaine was found in their pipes.

        And not every country has submitted data for every drug each year. In the years when London has participated in measurements of ecstasy, it has appeared in the top five.

        In the EU, the retail market for illegal drugs is estimated to be worth at least 24 billion euros (£18 billion).

        The biggest market is for cannabis, followed by heroin then cocaine.

        Read more from Reality Check

        Send us your questions

        Follow us on Twitter

Will Netflix’s Amo be the Philippine Narcos?

Allegations of historical inaccuracy, character stereotypes and the glamorisation of a drug-fuelled past have long plagued the critically-acclaimed Netflix hit series Narcos in Colombia.

And in early April, the global streaming giant will release another drug crime drama, this time from the Philippines.

Set against the backdrop of President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing drug war, Amo – produced in the Philippines and directed by Filipino Brillante Mendoza – tells the story of a troubled teenager named Joseph, who gets pulled into Manila’s underground world.

Traffickers and dangerous drug lords, crooked cops and corrupt government officials all feature prominently in the 12-episode series.

  • Duterte drug war: Manila’s brutal nightshift
  • Philippine drug war sees ‘bloodiest night’ of deaths
  • The woman who kills drug dealers for a living

    Produced by commercial broadcast network TV5, the series will be the first Filipino Netflix Original to be screened globally, starting 9 April.

    Netflix’s vice-president of content acquisition Robert Roy told the BBC it was a “bold and suspenseful show that has the potential of capturing thrill-seeking audiences worldwide”.

    But while there’s some local pride in a potentially breakthrough Philippine show, there’s also concern about the message it will send, not least because Brillante Mendoza is an open supporter of President Duterte.

    Since Mr Duterte launched an all-out campaign to stamp out drugs, rights groups estimate that more than 12,000 people have died.

    Many were shot without trial by police or vigilantes, their bodies left out in the open.

    The strongman leader recently announced plans to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) after it began examining alleged crimes committed during his war.

    Mendoza denied his programme was Duterte propaganda.

    “As a filmmaker stepping into this project, I want to tell truthful stories. I don’t care about politics,” Mr Mendoza told BBC News in Manila.

    Cannes Best Actress for Filipina star’s drug role

    Apple removes Philippines leader Duterte execution games

    He said he didn’t know whether the president had seen the series but that his representatives “liked it”.

    “My work speaks for itself and people have to watch Amo first. Just because I did a movie about illegal drugs, people are starting to accuse me of doing a propaganda film.

    His 2016 gritty tale Ma Rosa chronicled the struggles of a mother in Manila forced to sell drugs in order to make ends meet.

    “There are a lot of killings [in Amo],” he said. “I will show both sides of the coin, not just the side of the government but also the side of the victims and the police. There is a lot of corruption among them and they are partly to blame.”

    Critics say the story of the Philippine drug war will be a tricky one to tell.

    In a statement to BBC News, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the show appeared to gloss over “the vicious reality of Duterte’s drug war”.

    “The Philippine government presents a whitewashed view of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war that paints a ludicrous veneer of civility and lawfulness. They will be well-pleased by the first two episodes of Amo,” said deputy Asia director Phelim Kine.

    “One of the most notably preposterous elements of the show is the significant number of suspected drug users and dealers actually surviving their encounters with the Philippine National Police, which is contrary to what has actually been occurring since the drug war began in 2016,” he added.

    “Any dramatic representation of the drug war should stick to the same facts that have motivated an ICC examination of the killings, rather than provide an airbrushed version which does detriment to the truth while benefiting the Duterte government’s formidable propaganda machine.”

    Narcos, which debuted on Netflix in 2015, won critical acclaim for its documentary-style depiction of Colombian drug lords, with the earlier defining seasons centring on the story of Pablo Escobar.

    But the reception in the country where the series was based has always proven to be mixed. Many native audiences questioned the show’s authenticity and ridiculed its sympathetic narrative towards police officers and politicians.

    In the case of Amo and the Philippines, could native Netflix subscribers view a show about their president’s drug campaign as entertainment?

    “I’d watch it for sure,” said Isabel Sedano. “But I’d expect a strong story that won’t shy away from showing the darker and grittier side of local law enforcement and crime.

    “Fiction personalises issues and I feel that Amo will definitely help in making the drug war feel in even closer to home than it is.”

    Kimberly Koschinger, a 20-year-old student, said she would not want anything “sugar-coated”.

    “The Philippine drug war is anything but glamorous. I’m excited to see how it will be portrayed on Netflix,” she said. “Our country may be known for beautiful beaches and friendly people but if we are going to delve deeper into the darker parts of our country, I’d want to see full disclosure of the subject.”

    Others like Gab Bonifacio expressed stronger sentiments. “What shows haven’t glorified drugs? Just look at Breaking Bad and El Chapo.

    “But do we really think the narrative in Amo will be anti-establishment? I’m sure the scriptwriters will justify all the killings just like they did in Narcos,” he said.

    “Brillante Mendoza did a lot of good stuff before but based on his work with President Duterte, it becomes overwhelmingly obvious that what the show will have is the farthest thing from an objective observer.”

    Additional reporting by Howard Johnson and Virma Simonette in Manila.