POSSIBLY not quite at the top of the list of concerns about those who have suffered from the pandemic are people working in the drugs trade.

But as with every other sector of the economy, illegal narcotics has had its regular business model severely challenged.

With trade and international travel grinding to a halt, getting shipments across borders has proved acutely difficult.

Closer to home, the county lines system of bringing drugs to the provinces has also demanded creative thinking to overcome restrictions.

This week, I’ve been enjoying a fascinating new book, Kilo, in which investigative journalist Toby Muse unravels the secrets of the cocaine trade from its source in Colombia.

Hailed by the Observer as ‘one of the best books on drugs ever written’, it is a gripping and eye-opening read as Muse recounts his travels to Colombia where he visited and interviewed everyone from the cash-strapped farmers growing coca bushes in the Colombian countryside through to the drug lords who shape where the drugs go next.

It’s a long time now since Richard Nixon declared a war on drugs back in 1971. Since then, there have been moments of possibility: the death of Pablo Escobar in 1993; the peace deal with FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, in 2016.

But rather than the latter leading to the decline of the cocaine trade, the Colombian government failed to step up and support the farmers in stopping growing coca.

The result instead has been record harvests, now run by new players with revised supply chains.

Earlier this month, the UN estimated that in 2020, Colombia produced more cocaine than ever before: way over a thousand tons of the stuff. That’s waiting to get out there and, increasingly, its destination is Europe rather than the US.

This is partly due to the amount that the US has spent in combatting the drugs trade in Latin America: by contrast, European resources in the region are minimal.

But it’s also economics: a kilo of cocaine in the US is worth $28,000 wholesale: in Europe it is $40,000, rising to $80,000 in some countries. Given those numbers, it makes sense for drug lords to look across to this side of the Atlantic.

The drugs trade, too, hasn’t been idle during the pandemic. While the rest of us have been getting used to Zoom, so lockdown has led to dealers developing online purchase and delivery mechanisms.

As Toby Muse says, ‘the drugs market is capitalism, red in tooth and claw, always adapting, always ready, always evolving.’

With a bumper crop to sell, and sophisticated ways to sell it, it will take concerted police action to contain a rising drugs resurgence in the coming months.