Illicit drug trafficking

Visualization of narrower problems
Illegal drug trade
Illicit narcotics trade
Drug peddling
Recent international treaties define "illicit traffic" as the cultivation, manufacture or trafficking in drugs banned by such treaties. The term is, however, more generally used to describe the link between the demand for and the supply of illegal drugs, the distribution mechanism between production and the market. It is not just the street peddlers, but the vast hidden network that places the drugs on the street -- the fleets of planes and ships, the weapons, the criminal syndicates, the bribery and coercion that is a thriving multi-billion-dollar industry.

Illicit drug trafficking is sophisticated and complex in nature, involving a wide variety of drugs from many different sources throughout the world. Traffickers keep abreast of peak demand areas and the "drug of choice" in specific geographic locations, whilst maintaining the flow of narcotics around the world. This illicit traffic not only violates national drug laws and international conventions, but also involves many other criminal activities, including racketeering, conspiracy, bribery and corruption of public officials, tax evasion, banking law violations, illegal money transfers, import / export violations, crimes of violence and terrorism. This wide range of illegal activities presents an equally wide range of vulnerability to law enforcement action, but the challenge is to even the odds posed by logistics and the covert nature of the drug trade. Stopping one supply route by apprehending minor players, or even a "master criminal", may do little to interrupt the flow of drugs because the complicated network continues to be maintained by other members and rapidly can shift its operations to fill the gap.

The process which many countries have adopted for disrupting drug trafficking organizations include strengthening of legal tools such as judicial assistance, sentencing and appropriate penalties; forfeiture of assets gained illegally from the profits of the drug trade; extradition of persons accused of drug crimes; and denial of entry to persons convicted of drug offences. One step taken by the international community in this regard was the adoption of a [United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances], which deals with those aspects of the problem not covered in other international agreements.

Illicit drug trafficking, moving hundreds of tonnes of drugs around the world, besides using organized crime distribution rings, also depends on younger tourists and poor people, of whom tens of thousands illegally transport drugs each year. The smuggling of illicit drugs is presumed to be aided by some official corruption since the quantities apprehended by the authorities, despite tighter control measures, remain relatively small. Drug trafficking is also greatly aided by the production and manufacture of legal drugs, such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, which soften social opinions about drug use. The newest aspect of the illegal drug trade is the increasing demand for synthetic drugs. The world's drug control agents encounter huge laboratories with state-of-the-art technology and a work-force of chemists who can manufacture synthetic drugs in vast quantities.

Much early drug misuse carried with it no social stigma. Drug taking was generally kept within a small community, well with geographic locations and cultural settings. Together with the expansion of trade and communications came the first trafficking in narcotic drugs. By the nineteenth century, it was no longer possible to contain the use of a drug to any one location in the world. International co-operation in the field of drug control began in the early part of the twentieth century, when in 1909 the first attempts to limit the shipping of narcotic drugs were made. International drug treaties concluded between 1912 and 1972 provide the legal basis for the present international drug control system.

There are two categories of psychoactive (mind affecting) drugs which are subjected to international control: narcotics and psychotropic drugs. The [Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961], prohibits the practices of opium smoking, opium eating, coca-leaf chewing, hashish (cannabis) smoking and the use of the cannabis plant for any non-medical purposes. A period of transition was established to allow the States concerned to overcome the difficulties that could arise from the abolition of these ancient practices in their countries. The Convention also obliges States parties to the treaty to take any special control measures deemed necessary in the case of particularly dangerous drugs, such as heroin and ketobemidone. The [Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1971] adds a schedule relating to other common drugs of abuse, including hallucinogens, such as LSD and mescaline; stimulants, such as amphetamines; and sedative-hypnotics, such as barbiturates.

The terms "narcotic" and "psychotropic" are used in a legal sense and do not necessarily reflect the pharmacological properties of the respective drugs. Some drugs slow down mental activity (depressants of the central nervous system) and are thus useful medicines for: relieving pain (pain killers, analgesics, such as opium and morphine); inducing and/or maintaining sleep (hypnotics, such as some of the barbiturates); suppressing nervous excitement or curbing nervous disorders (sedatives such as barbiturates or glutethemide); or relieving anxiety (tranquillizers, such as meprobromate). Other drugs have an opposite effect on mental activity (stimulants of the central nervous system, such as dexamphetamine); that is, they induce states of excitement. For therapeutic purposes, they are used only when mental activity has to be intensified or when the appetite has to be curtailed. There is a group of substances which, in spite of their strong effect on mental activity, have very limited or no therapeutic use at all. These are hallucinogenic substances, that is, substances used to produce hallucinations or delusions.

According to the [CIA World Factbook], in 1997 there were five categories of illicit drugs: narcotics, stimulants, depressants (sedatives), hallucinogens, and cannabis. These categories include many drugs legally produced and prescribed by doctors as well as those illegally produced and sold outside of medical channels. Amongst them, commonly known and used drugs are:< Following is a list of illegal drugs in alphabetical order.

Cannabis ([Cannabis sativa]) is the common hemp plant, which provides hallucinogens with some sedative properties, and includes marijuana (pot, Acapulco gold, grass, reefer), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, Marinol), hashish (hash), and hashish oil (hash oil).

Coca (mostly [Erythroxylum coca]) is a bush with leaves that contain the stimulant used to make cocaine. Coca is not to be confused with cocoa, which comes from cacao seeds and is used in making chocolate, cocoa, and cocoa butter.

Cocaine is a stimulant derived from the leaves of the coca bush.

Depressants (sedatives) are drugs that reduce tension and anxiety and include chloral hydrate, barbiturates (Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal, phenobarbital), benzodiazepines (Librium, Valium), methaqualone (Quaalude), glutethimide (Doriden), and others (Equanil, Placidyl, Valmid).

Hallucinogens are drugs that affect sensation, thinking, self-awareness, and emotion. Hallucinogens include LSD (acid, microdot), mescaline and peyote (mexc, buttons, cactus), amphetamine variants (PMA, STP, DOB), phencyclidine (PCP, angel dust, hog), phencyclidine analogues (PCE, PCPy, TCP), and others (psilocybin, psilocyn).

Hashish is the resinous exudate of the cannabis or hemp plant ([Cannabis sativa]).

Heroin is a semisynthetic derivative of morphine.

Marijuana is the dried leaves of the cannabis or hemp plant [Cannabis sativa].

Methaqualone is a pharmaceutical depressant, referred to as mandrax in Southwest Asia. See Quaaludes below.

Narcotics are drugs that relieve pain, often induce sleep, and refer to opium, opium derivatives, and synthetic substitutes. Natural narcotics include opium (paregoric, parepectolin), morphine (MS-Contin, Roxanol), codeine (Tylenol with codeine, Empirin with codeine, Robitussan AC), and thebaine. Semisynthetic narcotics include heroin (horse, smack), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid). Synthetic narcotics include meperidine or Pethidine (Demerol, Mepergan), methadone (Dolophine, Methadose), and others (Darvon, Lomotil).

Opium poppy [Papaver somniferum] is the source for the natural and semisynthetic narcotics. Opium is the brown, gummy exudate of the incised, unripe seedpod of the opium poppy. Poppy straw concentrate is the alkaloid derived from the mature dried opium poppy.

Qat (kat, khat) is a stimulant from the buds or leaves of [Catha edulis] that is chewed or drunk as tea.

Quaaludes is the North American slang term for methaqualone, a pharmaceutical depressant.

It has been estimated that in the 1990s the global traffic in illicit drugs netted as much as $500 billion annually. Coca, from which cocaine is processed, is grown in western South America, chiefly in Peru and Bolivia, which also grow cannabis or marijuana. Forty-five tons of Andean cocaine is trafficked to the USA, the ultimate destination for drugs from many countries and 10 tonnes go to Europe. Ganja or cannabis from Jamaica, Mexico and the Andes is trafficked to the USA by the ton.

Neglecting national variations in the basis of statistical estimates, figures from Interpol indicate that in 1990 there were approximately 472,000 cases of drug offences reported from 91 countries worldwide, namely 15.6 per 100,000 population; some 373,000 (namely 79%) were claimed to have been resolved.

Opium production is carried on in the Golden Triangle (border area of Burma, Laos and Thailand), in the Golden Crescent (parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan), Turkey and Mexico. Opium is bulky and has a characteristic odour; for this reason it is usually converted to heroin for trafficking internationally. The distribution of opiates is mainly carried out by organized crime, whereas the distribution of LSD and cannabis is mainly done by amateurs. The reason for this is the greater profit obtained from the illicit traffic of opiates and the higher court penalties involved which are of less risk to a well-organized network than to individuals. The initial cost of traffic in opiates may be higher, which would also preclude amateur participation. Monopolies tend to develop in the illicit opiate trade. Illicit heroin demand in USA (the largest known market) seems to be fully supplied.

Even people who do not use illegal drugs are hurt by drug use. The drug trade is highly organized and sophisticated. The networks established to transport illegal drugs are often used to transport illegal weapons. The organizations involved gain large sums of money which are used for corruption, intimidation and destabilization of Governments. The erratic ebb and flow and sheer volume of drug money has a destabilizing effect on money supply and exchange markets. In addition, some insurgent and terrorist groups finance their activities with proceeds from drugs. The domestic changes caused by traffickers can be seen in street crime of all sorts -- robbery, arson, murder, extortion -- and in the ruined lives of individuals, families, communities and societies.
Dangerous drugs should not be banned but the laws strictly enforced for both the user and the trafficker. Abusable and restricted drugs should be decriminalized and effective treatment programmes should be set up. In all cases honest, direct and effective mass media descriptions of the short and long term consequences of drug taking should be aired.
(D) Detailed problems