Drug precursors


Some chemical substances legitimately used in manufacturing a large range of products are called “drug precursors” since their use can be diverted for the illicit manufacture of narcotic or psychotropic substances.

For example : acetone is a solvent and chemical intermediary for a large number of products. It is also used illicitly in the manufacture of cocaine or heroin.

Currently 24 chemical products and 2 types of medicinal products are commonly used in manufacturing narcotic drugs. They are classified in four categories in a list of “controlled” substances called “scheduled” substances.

There are other “unclassified substances”, not included in the list, whose use may also be diverted to manufacture drugs. These are subject to voluntary monitoring by the industry.

Obligations and controls

The control of the licit trade of these chemical substances is a way of fighting against drug trafficking. It varies according to the type of movement.

Transport within the European Union

Operators wishing to market products from category 1 and 2 in the European Union (EU) must designate an officer responsible for the trade and inform the authorities of the identity of this person. These operators must moreover obtain a “customer declaration” specifying the use of the substance (one per substance).

Note: For category 2 substances, a single declaration covering several individual transactions is possible for a regular customer when the operator has already provided the same substance 3 times during the previous 12 months, and nothing leads to believe that the substance will be used illicitly and that the quantity requested is not unusual.

The storage and marketing of category 1 substances requires specific approval. Sales can only be made to an operator or user that also holds an approval. This approval is valid for 3 years at most, or more on condition of demonstrating at regular intervals (of less than 3 years) that the conditions are still met.

The storage and marketing of category 2 substances requires registration with authorities. The sale of these substances is reserved solely for operators or users that are also registered.

Note: when the quantities of category 2 substance do not exceed the threshold indicated in Appendix II for one year, the operator does not need to register nor have the trade document accompanying the goods.

The registration or approval may be subject to the payment of duties. Categories 3 and 4 do not require any approval or registration.


In order to allow traceability of category 1 and 2 substances, they must be marked prior to distribution. A European database of drug precursors is used as a European registry of approved operators and users and allows discussions with the authorities.

The Pharmacy and Medication Department of the Luxembourg Health Directorate is responsible for the control and monitoring of the market. For that, it collects information from operators, has access to their premises and may search for any irregularities. Finally, it may hold or seize shipments.

Generally speaking, operators must collaborate with the authorities and provide notice of unusual orders or transactions, including those concerning non-classified substances that are subject to voluntary monitoring.

Operators established in Luxembourg must keep a registry showing a summary of mandatory information on the transactions carried out (quantity of classified substances used, provided or delivered) and such operators may be required to provide other information to the authorities on request.

Transport from/to a third country

The holding or marketing of category 1 substances requires approval of the operator. An approved operator can only provide to a user that is also approved.

For the import from and export to third countries as well as for intermediated activities involving category 2 substances and the export of category 3 products, it is necessary to register with the Pharmacy and Medication Department.

Prior notification by the Pharmacy and Medication Department to the third country authorities is necessary for the export of category 1 and 4 substances (and only for certain countries concerning categories 2 and 3). The foreign authority thus notified in advance will deliver or not an import authorization.

The import of category 1 substances is only allowed when the importer is established in the EU and has an import authorization. The authorization is valid for six months and may be suspended or revoked.

Note: When classified substances are brought into the customs territory of the EU for unloading or transbording, temporary warehousing, or storage in a free zone subject to type 1 control or in free warehousing or under external Union transit scheme, the legality of the objectives of the transaction must be demonstrated by the operator, at the request of the competent authorities, but authorization is not necessary.

In all cases, the seller must be sure of the customer’s final use of the goods and notify the authorities in the case of an unusual transaction.

Related documents

All categories of classified substances, except for those in category 4, must be accompanied by the customs and commercial documents provided by the operator at the time of the movement. These documents contain the name of the substance as well as the words “DRUG PRECURSOR”, the amount and the weight of the goods, the name and the address of the exporter, the importer and the final recipient as well as the intermediaries. They must be kept for 3 years starting from the end of the year of the transaction.

For goods leaving the customs territory of the EU in the case of an export, the operator must obtain an export authorization regardless of the category of the substance, from the Pharmacy and Medication Department. The authorization is presented to the customs office at the time of the customs declaration and must contain the itinerary and the means of transport of the goods prior to their departure. It is valid for 6 months and may be suspended or revoked.

Note: if goods are exported within 10 days of being placed in a free zone under a type 2 control or in a suspensive procedure, no export authorization is needed. Category 3 substances only need an export authorization if prior notification is required.

Related organizations

The Pharmacy and Medication Department delivers the authorizations for import and export to third countries for drug precursors.

Last update