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Global Drug Trafficking: An Overview

Drug trafficking is the major issue internationally and domestically. Drug trafficking means the smuggling of the illicit drugs from one region to the other, it includes the production, distribution selling, storage of the drugs which are banned by Narcotics and drugs associated laws. However, the drugs are also useful for the legitimate purposes such as for the medical purposes, for scientific research, for educational purpose, etc. these legal drugs are different from the illegal drugs which are banned by the laws.

The effect of this illegal drugs are very much harmful as it may result in to the death of a person. However, India is not an exception to it, in the past few decades we have observed that how drug use is increasing in India, and specifically the young generation is becoming the target of it. The states such as Punjab and Haryana are the mostly affected states of India because of the drug trafficking and drug abuse. The increase in the use of drugs has many direct and hidden effects on the growth of a country.

This research article discusses how the drug trafficking happens, the drug trafficking routes, which places are the center for drug production. It also discusses what are the legislation at global and Indian level to control drug trafficking.

Drugs are such substances which effects the mental and physical health of a person in a negative way. Drug trafficking is an illegal trade and transportation of substances that are restricted or controlled by different laws, such as narcotics and illicit drugs. Most of the jurisdictions has introduced the provisions of license for the legitimate use of certain drugs for medical purposes.

Drug trafficking involves connections of the individuals, organizations, and routes in order to facilitate the movement of such substances from one place to the other. In India, similar as many other counties, drug trafficking has a very significant and far - reaching effects on society. This effect includes drug addiction, public health issues, organized crimes, security concerns and other legal challenges.

The think tank Global Financial integrity's Transnational Crime and the developing world report estimates that the global illicit drug market is between US $ 426 and US $ 652 billion in 2014 alone. The world GDP was of US $ 78 trillion in that year, it means that the illegal drug trade is estimated around 1% of the total world trade. Consumption of these illicit drugs is globally widespread and the local authorities are finding difficulties to reduce the rates of drug consumption.

In this research article, the problem of drug trafficking with reference to various types of drugs i.e. narcotics and psychotropic substances, synthetic drugs, new psychoactive substances, etc. is discussed including its effect in social and economic development, along with legal structure to curb drug trafficking.

History of drug trafficking
The history of drug trafficking can be traced back to the reign of the Qing dynasty in China. In the beginning of the 18th century, British merchants from the East India Company started to illegally sell Opium to the Chinese traders, and during early 1900s, an illegal trade in drug in China was emerged. And by 1838, that lead to rise of opium addicts between 4 - 12 millions, the Chinese responded to this situation by imposing a ban on the import of the opium and this leads to the first opium war between UK and Qing dynasty (1839 - 1842), the Chinese were defeated by the Britishers and the war resulted in the Treaty of Nanking, in which the Qing dynasty was forced to allow Britisher traders to sell opium in China. Trading in opium was profitable, and opium smoking was common for the Chinese in 19th century.

Second opium war held on 1856, this time Britishers were accompanied by the French, which resulted in The Treaty of Tianjin, which concluded the conflict, and resulted in to an agreement with Chinese authorities that they would open further ports to foreign trade, including opium. In 1868, due to rise of opium consumption in Britain, they restricted sale of opium by implementing the 1868 Pharmacy Act. In the United States the prohibition Era (1920s - 1930s) has played an important role for the evolution of illicit drug trade, as it resulted in the creation of more business opportunities for American mafias, because the ban was on liquor and they had started manufacturing, smuggling and sale illicit liquor.

In India from the Mughal period only, opium was popular and it was widely used for recreational purposes. During the rule of British company, the company assumed the total control of opium cultivation and started trading it where it was legal and smuggle it where it was illegal. Post WW 2, production and distribution of drugs like heroin and cocaine was also started on large scale by criminal organizations.

In recent times, there has been a surge in the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine and MDMA, often produced in laboratories. The issue has now gained a global reach, with the criminal network operating across continents and oceans. Despite extensive law enforcement efforts, drug trafficking remains a persistent problem, with new substances and innovative distribution methods continually emerging.

Key Drugs Involved:
The recreational use of cannabis is illegal in majority of the country, but in some countries, its recreational distribution is legal such as Canada, and medical distribution is allowed in some of the places, such as 10 out of 50 US states. This drug has been legalized in some of the countries such as Canada, Urugay, etc., though its trafficking to the other country is illegal.


Alcohol is illegal in Islam countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and due to this illegal trade in alcohol happens in that regions.

It is also known as diacetylmorphine and diamorphine, it is mainly used as recreational drug because of its euphoric effects. But its excessive dose is harmful. In the 1950s and 1960s, most of the heroin was produced by Turkey and transshipped through the French connection to France and USA. Then, until 2004, in Golden triangle (a place in Asia), majority of the world's heroin was produced.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (UDEA), the price of heroin is 8 - 10 higher than that of cocaine on American streets, which makes it a high - profit substances for the dealers. Because of cost effectiveness, increased efficacy and high cost volume, the heroin is generally preferred product for smuggling and distribution.

It is one of the popular drugs among the drug distributors. Some common street names are 'meth', 'crank', and 'ice'. This drug was discovered in 1893 This drug is mainly used for the recreational purpose and less commonly as a second - line treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity. Methamphetamine is illegally trafficked and sold for its recreational purposes. The highest illegal use of methamphetamine occurs in parts of Asia and Oceania, and in the United States.

This drug is generally used as a medication for the treatment of insomnia. However, as it is a strong hypnotic benzodiazepine, it is illegally manufactured in clandestine laboratories in order to meet the increasingly demand for the drug internationally. Many labs manufacturing temazepam are in Eastern Europe. Surveys in many countries show that temazepam, nimetazepam and methamphetamine ranks among the top illegal addictive substances used.

It is used as a medicine by indigenous South Americans for various purposes and rarely, it is also used as a local anesthesia by medical practitioners of developed countries. However, due to its recreational effect it is highly trafficked drug. In 2020, about 2,000 tons of cocaine were produced for distribution through illicit markets.

Drug Trafficking routes
Drug trafficking routes are the ways/ routes through which drugs are trafficked from one region/ continent or country to the other -

East and south Africa:
This portion of Africa has became a route for the smuggling of heroin from Afghanistan to Europe and America. This path is popularly known as 'smack track'. The main reason for trafficking of drugs through this region is the political corruption among African Nations.

Cocaine which produces in Colombia and Bolivia is shipped via West Africa to different regions of the world. The money is usually laundered in west African countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal. According to an African economic Institute, the value of illicit drug smuggling in this countries are twice the value of country's GDP. The police officers and other government officers are often bribed.

Drugs in Asia were earlier trafficked through the southern routes - the southeast Asia and southern part of China - and it also included the former opium producing countries such as Thailand and Iran. After the end of cold war i.e. from 1991 onwards, borders were opened and trade customs and agreements were signed so that, route expands and can includes Russia and central Asia.

These routes were also used for the trafficking of drugs, mainly for heroin trade and this leads to development of new drug markets. A large quantity of drugs are trafficked to Europe through Asia. The main source of this drugs is Afghanistan and the countries which constitutes 'Golden Crescent'. On the other hand, the drugs produced by 'Golden Triangle', i.e. consists of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, on the other hand smuggles the drugs to Australia, and U.S.

South America
The illegal drugs which originates in Colombia are trafficked through the path of Venezuela and other Central American and Caribbean countries such as Haiti, Dominican Republic, etc. to United States and Europe. According to UN (United Nations), since 2002 there was an significant increase of cocaine trafficking through Venezuela. On 18 November, 2016, 2 nephews of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro were found guilty of trafficking the drugs in United States, so that they can gain large sum of money in order to help their family to remain in power.

Online Trafficking:
Online drug trafficking simply means engaging in drug trafficking activities using the internet. Over the last decade internet has emerged as a market place for drug trafficking. But in order to do an illegal drug trafficking online one must have high technical knowledge, so that he can keep the transaction hidden from the law enforcement agencies. Drug trafficking using internet and dark web has become prevalent throughout the world.

One of the high profile case of drug trafficking was known as 'silk road' case. Silk road was an online platform primarily used for sell of illicit drugs. This platform was a part of dark web and was not easily surfable by the casual users. The silk road had smuggled about hundreds of kilos of illegal drugs to around 100,000 buyers before its shut down in October, 2013. It was shut down by FBI and the site's founder was arrested.

India's position
India's geographical position is such that it is sandwiched between Golden triangle and golden crescent which are considered to be the largest opium producing regions of the world. The golden triangle region includes countries such as Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos, whereas on the other hand the golden crescent region consists of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Thus, for the last 3 decades India has became a hub as well as destination for the hashish and heroin produced in this region. The linkage between drug traffickers, organized criminal networks and terrorists can create a situation of instability in the country.

In India according to a the latest report by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), about 70% of the illegal drugs are smuggled into the country through the sea routes from Bay of Bengal and Arabian sea.

Social and Economic consequences of drug abuse and trafficking
Drugs have direct and indirect consequences on development, across population, different age groups. Drug trafficking proves to be a means of income for poor individuals who have limited access to other alternative employment. For example, opium is said to be the biggest employer in Afghanistan, in Southern America, the cocaine trade has provided a means for thousands of the families to flee from extreme poverty areas to the coca growing areas. Despite these examples, there are negative impact of the drugs on Social and economic development.

Influence on employment status and productivity:
Drug abuse mainly occurs among the young people between the age group of 15 - 35 years, thus it includes the people who are about to enter the work force, the consumption of such illicit drugs limit their chances to enter in to the work force, while the frustration of not finding adequate employment will favor the drug consumption, thus it will create a vicious circle.

There is co-relation between unemployment and drug taking habits, both in developing and developed countries. The 1992 British crime survey has revealed that the persons who are unemployed are 60% more addicted to the drugs than the persons who are employed. The link between drug taking behavior, accidents and low productivity. Drug abusers in the workforce can impose significant extra costs on business sector, that can reduce its competitiveness. Societies will find difficult to become advance, irrespective of their current development status, if they rely on such workforce which is impaired by the large scale of drug abuse.

Effect of family and community
Drug abuse can affect the family relation, which can lead to disintegration, separation, conflicts and even causes breakdowns. A study done by UNRISD and United Nations University on Mexico has showed that, illicit drug abuse correlates more with the disintegration of society rather than with the poverty. It is accepted that families have powerful influence in shaping the attitude, behavior and values patterns of children, and preventing them from substance abuse, but peer groups are often proved to have more stronger influence.

An individual who is addicted to drugs more often becomes socially isolated. He may withdraw himself from friends, families and other social activities.

Health issues
Drug abuse is also associated with various health related problems. The substances which are mostly associated with drug related deaths are heroin, cocaine, opiates, and to a lesser extent, methamphetamine. The substances doesn't cause death directly, but it is possible that, they may associate with fatal accidents.

Stigma and discrimination:
People with the drug abuse issues often faces discrimination and societal stigmatization, which makes it difficult for them to seek help from the society or to reintegrate them into society.

Drugs and crimes are related to each other in many ways. Drugs increases the possibility of many kinds of criminal activities, it also includes the violent conflicts among trafficking groups competing with each other for increased market shares. The crimes are also committed by the consumers of the drugs in order to finance their addiction through theft and prostitution.

On the basis of data collected between 1975 and 1989, shows that the drug related crimes and robbery were significant growing component in crime, after kidnapping. The researches shows that, drug related crimes are not high only in consumer countries, but also in the producers countries.

Legal framework to restrict drug trafficking:
At global level there are three major drug control treaties in order to put a control on drug trafficking:
  1. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 (as amended in 1972),
  2. The Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971,
  3. The United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of 1988.
An important objective of the first two agreements is to codify internationally applicable control measures to ensure the availability of narcotic and psychotropic substances for medical and scientific purposes only and prevent them from entering illegal channels. They also contain general provisions on illegal drug trafficking and drug abuse.

The United Nations Convention against Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) expands the control system to include precursors and focuses on establishing measures to combat illicit drug trafficking and related money laundering, as well as strengthening the framework for international cooperation in criminal matters including extradition and other legal assistance.

All three conventions attribute their important functions to the commission on Narcotic Drugs and to the International Narcotic Control Board.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs, is composed of 53 members which are elected by Economic and Social Council for a term of four years, it is a policy making body, with regard to the matters related to drugs, it also monitors the global trends of illicit drug trafficking and abuse.

The International Narcotics Control Board consists of 13 members and is a permanent and independent body, who are elected by the Economic and Social Council for a term of five years. Its function is to monitor the implementation of conventions and to provide recommendations to the states. It prepares an annual report relating to illicit trafficking's current situation in the world and give it to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs and to the Economic and Social Council.

At domestic level different countries have different drug laws in order to control the illicit trafficking of drugs in their countries, such as USA has The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), UK has Misuse of drug act, India has Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, etc.

India drug policy (NDPS):
India has Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances act, 1985, which deals with the control and regulation of Narcotic drugs and Psychotropic substances. This act prohibits any person from the production, distribution, cultivation, manufacturing, sale, transport, possession, storage, and/ or consumption of Narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

This act was enacted in 1985, and later on was amended 3 times in 1988, 2001 and 2014. The penalties provided under this act are severe, which attracts the jail term ranging from 1 year to 20 years and fine depending on crimes.

Abetment, criminal conspiracy and attempt to commit crime are also punishable with the same punishment as an offence. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) was also constituted according to the provisions of the NDPS act. It is a nodal agency, responsible for coordination with various agencies, ministries with regard to the enforcement of drug laws.

This paper has explained that how the drugs are trafficked to different countries through using different routes, which key drugs are involved in trafficking, etc. Inspite of the drug trafficking laws, the drug trafficking is increasing day by day and mainly the developing and under developed countries are becoming a victim of it.

As mentioned above, drug trafficking is a means of income for poor people and they don't have an alternative option of employment, thus efforts must be made to create such alternate employment option for such people so that, they may not engage in illicit drug trafficking. Advance methods and technologies must be used for the investigation of drug trafficking, cross border operation protocols must be implemented to reduce trafficking of drugs across countries.

Enforcement agencies must be given more powers to investigate in drug related matters. More stricter must be introduced for drug dealers and traffickers in drug laws, emphasis must be given for the rehabilitation of the persons who are victim of drug abuse.

The government must organize drug prevention programmes and educate people regarding negative consequences relating to illicit drug trafficking. Laws relating to drugs must be updated time to time, in order to address new emerging challenges.

  1. Collins, Larry; Lapierre, Dominique (6 February 1972). "The French Connection�In Real Life".
  2. McCoy, (2003), The Politics of Heroin, Lawrence Hill.
  3. UNODC Office for Russia and Belarus, Illicit drug trends in the Russian Federation 2005. Moscow: UNODC, 2006.
  4. Turak, Natasha (16 March 2023). "Cocaine production is at its highest level on record, UN says". CNBC.
  5. Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud (2010). Opium: Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy, Harvard University Press.
  6. Paraamba Singh Rathore, (date not known), "Drugs, laws and punishments", Legal services India Journal.
  7. Merrill Singer, (2006), "Drug and development: the global impact of drug use and trafficking on social and economic development", International Journal of drug - Policy.
  8. Denise Kandel, (1973), "Adolescent marijuana use: role of parents and peers", Science, No. 181, pp. 1067-1081.
  9. Mar�a Celia Toro, (1995), Mexico's "War" on Drugs: Causes and Consequences, in Studies on the Impact of the Illegal Drug Trade (Boulder, Lynne Rienner).
  10. "Drug seizures Report From Year: 2009 Until Year: 2012 Drug Group: Cocaine-type". United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  11. United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) drug report 2010.

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