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Taxation and Customs Union

Drug precursors are chemicals that are primarily used for the legitimate (legal) production of a wide range of products, like medicine, perfumes, plastics, cosmetics etc.

However, they can also be misused for the illicit (illegal) production of drugs such as methamphetamines, heroin or cocaine.

Drug precursor diversion happens when criminals, or criminal organisations, take these products out of the legal market and use them for illegal purposes.

Two examples:

  • Acetic anhydride (AA) is used in many industrial processes for the production of plastics, textiles, dyes, photochemical agents, perfumes, explosives and cigarette filters.
    However, AA is also an important reaction agent for the illicit production of heroin. For the production of 1 kg of heroin, 1 to 1.5 litre of AA is required.
  • Ephedrine or pseudo-ephedrine — strong nasal-decongestants — are legally used to manufacture medicinal products against flu or allergies, but they are also key products used in illicit production of methamphetamine. Only 1.5 kg of ephedrine/pseudoephedrine is needed to obtain 1 kg of methamphetamine. Assuming that one tablet contains 60mg of ephedrine/pseudoephedrine, 25 000 tablets are needed to obtain 1 kg of methamphetamine.

Taking into account the wide range of legitimate uses of drug precursors, their trade cannot be prohibited. Since the early nineties specific rules, both at international and at EU level, have been put in place to ensure that diversion of drug precursors is prevented through control of their legitimate trade at EU borders and in the internal market.

The legislation aims to strike a balance between the necessary control to prevent diversion of drug precursors and allowing their legitimate trade without creating unnecessary administrative burdens.

At EU level 24 substances are "scheduled" (controlled) and they are divided into three categories:

  1. Category 1 covers the most sensitive substances, from which illicit drugs can be produced most easily;
  2. Category 2 covers less sensitive substances
  3. Category 3 covers bulk chemicals that can have different types of uses in the manufacturing process (feedstock, but also solvents, impurities remover, etc.).
  4. Since December 2013, a new category (category 4) has been introduced in the legislation concerning trade between the EU and third countries, covering medicinal products for human and veterinary use containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine.