This is the first post in a new five-part series on Global Drug Trafficking. The following posts will be (consecutively) Production, Manufacture, Distribution and Sale.
Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade. UNOCD (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) continuously monitors the global drug market to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the dynamics within the trade. These posts will be supported mainly with information retrieved from the UNODC website.
First I will explain some general facts in this post, so you might better understand the global drug trade.
What are drugs?
Drugs are substances that, when absorbed into the body, alter normal bodily function. As you can see, that is an extremely wide variety of substances. Caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, and of course medicinal substances (such as for instance Prozac or Valium, or even Ibuprofen) are all drugs. These are mostly drugs that people are allowed, by law, to use.
A short history of drugs in the illicit trade
There was a time when cocaine and heroine were over-the-counter products, but in 1912, first steps toward the prohibition of drug trade were made. The International Opium Convention, a treaty signed by the countries with major marine power brought an end to the trade of opium. In the past you have probably been told that the East India Company mostly traded in spices and tea, but they were actually highly involved in the global drug trade.
In 1931, the Paris Convention was signed to prohibit the production and distribution of drugs in the more general sense. In 1961, The international treaty Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs was signed to include the vast variety of synthetic drugs that had been invented in the 30 years that had passed. The production and distribution of specific (narcotic) drugs except those under license for medical treatment or research was prohibited.
More treaties have been signed since 1961, but none were as ground-breaking as these three.
In the global drug trade, drugs banned by these conventions are sold. There are several categories.
- Opiates: i.e. morphine, heroin, opium, codeine, methadone (not illegal but also depressant are i.e. alcohol, antihistamines and antipsychotics)
- i.e. cocaine, MDMA (a.k.a. ecstasy or XTC), amphetamines (not illegal but also stimulant are i.e. nicotine, caffeine and methylphenidate a.k.a. Ritalin)
- i.e. LSD, mescalin, cannabis (a.k.a. marijuana)
Use of illicit drugs
Worldwide, there are millions of drug (ab)users. Click the following graphs to view them in larger size. (Source: 2010 UNODC World Drug Report).
What I find interesting about this graph is to see how much the preferences of drug users have changed. Opiate and cocaine-type use has declined significantly, whereas amphetamines and other designer (synthetic) drugs have become more popular.
Interestingly, the only increase in use in opiates is found in Africa. This can mainly be explained by the decrease in price of the drug.
(By looking at this graph, keep in mind that these numbers are relative to the continent’s/country’s number of inhabitants. For instance: the low estimate for cannabis users in Europe and Africa are roughly similar, keep in mind that Africa has a little over 1 billion inhabitants, whereas Europe “only” has 731 million. The percentage of users in each continent is much different.)
How come the illegal drug trade still exists?
There are numerous organizations worldwide that fight against the illicit drug trade. The War on Drugs is a U.S. campaign to end the drug trade – with the help of the military. Many people have been hurt in this “war” (financially, physically and mentally), and many people will continue to be hurt.
Despite the efforts to bring an end to drug use and the market, it still is booming. Very shortly put, this has everything to do with corruption. The levels of corruption surrounding the drug trade are astounding. I have heard of techniques to get drugs across borders that made my jaw drop; there are those who hide the drugs within their bodies, have ways of hiding the drugs within fabrics, etcetera. The lengths people go to hide, ship and sell drugs are extreme.
If you worked at an airport for a meager salary of $1000 a month, with a pile of debts as high as the Empire State Building, would you not accept $5000 to leave open a door at a certain time, thereby indirectly enabling the business? It’s easy money, and it’s extremely hard for the government agencies to track you down.
And you have the people in positions of power that are involved in the illegal drug trade, too. For instance, a few years ago, a harbor captain in a Mexican harbor was arrested and sentenced for enabling the drug trade. He was responsible for the authorization of ships as they came in and went out of the harbor. These people often make millions of dollars simply by cooperating and enabling the business.
What are your ideas about the global drug market?
While the War on Drugs could open an entirely different can of worms, what are your thoughts on it?
What would you do if you were in the position of the airport employee?
Please share your thoughts and ideas!