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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Antwerp, Belgium Is Europe’s Surprising Cocaine Capital

4 Substance

This pretty port city is not as square as it seems.

Antwerp, Belgium has a bit of a reputation as one of Europe’s tamer cities. Its name alone makes it seem like the guy at the party who drinks half-a-beer in the corner and then leaves early.

But don’t be fooled: Antwerp is no square. According to last month’s Global Drug Survey, Belgium is home to the world’s most enthusiastic cocaine users, rating the drug an average rating of 5.5/10 (compared with just 2.2/10 from Australians, who are the world’s least coke-enthused). It’s also the cheapest place in western Europe to buy the drug, says the survey, with some dealers charging as little as £40 (67$) a gram, half the European average. Also, a recent analysis of sewage samples concluded that Antwerp’s sewers contain among the highest  quantities of cocaine residue out of the 42 European cities surveyed.

Even the city’s birds are on cocaine! A recent petition imploring the government “to stop the absurd practice of doping up pigeons in order to win pigeon races” is just a few hundred shy of its 45,000 signature goal. “Pigeon-doping” apparently helps the bird breeders win big bucks in the country’s popular sport of pigeon-racing.

So why is Antwerp so cocaine-crazy? The proximity to Europe’s second-busiest port can’t hurt: The US State Department estimates that around 20 tons of blow enter there each year. And two years ago the city’s authorities seized a record eight tons of cocaine, worth around $840 million dollars, disguised in a container of bananas from Ecuador.

But some suggest that Antwerp’s prospering economy is driving the cocaine boom. Once “a city of merchants,” the pretty, “genteel” city is on the up-and-up, and becoming a more popular tourist destination in recent years. A rising middle class and a “new era of embourgeoisement” could explain why more people are partaking in the elite party drug. Or maybe it’s just something in the water…