• The L word Blog

Drug Trade and Trafficking: An International Issue

Updated: Jun 16

Written By: Vaibhav Goyal, University Institute Of Legal Studies, Punjab University (SSGRC.HSP), Chandigarh

“Nothing is impossible; the word itself says, ‘I’m possible!”

-Audrey Hepburn

Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances that are subject to drug prohibition laws. The illegal drug trade or drug trafficking is a global black market dedicated to the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of drugs that are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs through the use of drug prohibition laws. In the early 19th century, an illegal drug trade in China[1] emerged. As a result, by 1838 the number of Chinese opium addicts had grown to between four and twelve million. In the United States, control of opium remained under the control[2] of individual US states until the introduction of the Harrison Act in 1914, after 12 international powers signed the International Opium Convention in 1912.

Punjab has the dubious distinction of registering the highest number[3] of drug smuggling cases in the country in 2016, according to data put out by the Central government. The factors that caused and perpetuated the state’s drug problem–an agrarian crisis caused by an over-reliance on cash crops, a lack of job opportunities, the easy availability of narcotic substances and ties between drug syndicates, organised criminal gangs, politicians and rogue elements of the law enforcement agencies–are not amenable to quick fixes. Moreover, Punjab is just one of several corridors in India for drug smuggling; dismantling the whole global network that drives the illicit trade requires a much larger national and international effort. The early efforts of the new government are encouraging. The Special Task Force (STF) was constituted[4] on 31 March 2017 to address the illegal drug situation. Punjab's proximity to the heroin-producing Golden Crescent—Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran— makes it extremely vulnerable.

Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of substances that are subject to drug prohibition laws. UNODC is continuously monitoring[5] and researching global illicit drug markets to gain a more comprehensive understanding of their dynamics. Drug trafficking is a key part of this research. At current levels, world heroin consumption (340 tons) and seizures represent an annual flow of 430-450 tons of heroin into the global heroin market. Of that total, opium from Myanmar and the Lao People's Democratic Republic yields some 50 tons, while the rest, some 380 tons of heroin and morphine, are produced exclusively from Afghan opium. While approximately 5 tons are consumed and seized in Afghanistan, the remaining bulk of 375 tons is trafficked worldwide via routes flowing into and through the countries neighbouring Afghanistan.

The Balkan and northern routes are the main heroin trafficking[6] corridors linking Afghanistan to the huge markets of the Russian Federation and Western Europe. The Balkan route traverses the Islamic Republic of Iran (often via Pakistan), Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria across South-East Europe to the Western European market, with an annual market value of some $20 billion. The northern route runs mainly through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (or Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan) to Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation. The size of that market is estimated to total $13 billion per year.[7]

Drug trafficking in the United States dates back to the 19th century. From opium to marijuana to cocaine, a variety of substances have been illegally imported, sold, and distributed throughout U.S. history, often with devastating consequences. During the mid-1800s, Chinese immigrants arriving in California introduced Americans to opium smoking. The trading, selling, and distribution of opium spread throughout the region. Before long, Americans were experimenting with other opiates like morphine and codeine. Morphine was especially popular for use as a pain reliever during the Civil War, which caused thousands of Union and Confederate soldiers to become addicted to the drug. The Harrison Act of 1914 outlawed the use of opium and cocaine for non-medical purposes, but the illicit drugs continued to circulate.

In 1925, a black market for opium opened up in New York’s Chinatown. At this time, there were about 200,000 heroin addicts in the United States. The distribution of opiates continued during the Jazz Era of the 1930s and 1940s. Marijuana also became a popular recreational drug in some communities during this era. The Mafia's participation in the drug trade was sometimes known as the “French Connection” because smugglers in New York City would seize shipments of Turkish opium that arrived from Paris and Marseilles, France. In the late 1970s, the illegal cocaine trade became a major moneymaking opportunity throughout the world.

In 1982, Panamanian General Manuel Noriega allowed Medellin drug lord[8] Pablo Escobar to ship cocaine through Panama. Around this time, Vice President George H.W. Bush created the South Florida Drug Task Force to combat cocaine trade through Miami, where violence involving traffickers was steadily increasing. The Sinaloa Federation, which is still operating today, is perhaps the largest and most well-known Mexican drug cartel. It’s also known as the “Pacific Cartel,” the “Guzman-Loera Organization,” the “Federation,” and the “Blood Alliance.”[9]

India has been enduring the menace of drug trafficking for four decades. Although India has been a traditional consumer of opium and cannabis derivatives, the trends and patterns of drug trafficking demonstrate that there is a gradual shift from traditional/natural drugs towards synthetic drugs that are being trafficked and consumed in the country. In the 1980s, a large quantity of heroin and hashish was smuggled into the country through various borders. While these narcotics are still trafficked, albeit, in lesser quantities, the share of synthetic drugs has gone up tremendously. Being closer to the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle, India has been vulnerable[10] to the trafficking of narcotics and drugs such as heroin, hashish, and synthetic drugs produced in these areas. Heroin was first trafficked into India in the mid-seventies from the Golden Triangle, which picked up by eighties. The Golden Crescent, on the other hand, has remained the primary source[11] of trafficked heroin in the country since the early eighties when traffickers started rerouting heroin from this region through India following the Iran-Iraq war.

Although the end of the war and reopening of the Balkan trafficking route in the late eighties resulted in a dip in heroin trafficking in the country, the trend did not sustain. Besides heroin, hashish and marijuana are the two derivatives of Cannabis that are extensively trafficked in India.

Hashish and marijuana have been traditionally trafficked into India from Nepal and therefore, Nepal remains a major source[12] even though its share has been decreasing over the past few years. Besides, the Golden Crescent has also been a major source of hashish in India. Incidentally, a lot of these narcotics that are trafficked into India not consumed domestically but transit the country for destinations such as Europe, Canada, and the United States of America.[13]

Punjab is one of India’s leading state. Considered to be the granary of India is in the clutches of drugs. Only a decade ago Punjab, one of the wealthiest states of India at the time, was heralded as one of the country’s “crown jewels”. In 2004 it was ranked[14] as the “second richest state” in terms of GDP per capita. Now, however, the success story of Punjab's economy has seemingly come to an end. One of India's fastest has become India's slowest. Its growth rate has become half and its skilled manpower and entrepreneurial skills no longer exist. What has put Punjab in the national headlines[15] is a drug epidemic that has swept across the state, accompanying the decline in economic growth. The extent is quite clear from the fact that nearly 60% of the drugs confiscated[16] in India are seized in Punjab.

The harshest law[17] for the possession of drugs could be stated as in Malaysia, those who sell drugs can be punished with death. Just for having drugs in your possession[18], you can be fined, jailed, or deported. In China's execution[19] is the penalty for some drug crimes. In Vietnam execution for possessing more than 1.3 pounds of heroin. In Iran for drugs imposition of a large fine and in some cases will be the death penalty[20]. In Thailand, for trafficking narcotics, one may be put to death. The sale of drugs in Saudi Arabia almost always results[21] in the death penalty. Alcohol use is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and possession or use of alcohol or drugs can be punished by public flogging, fines, lengthy imprisonment, or death. Singaporean police will assume that you are selling drugs if caught with relatively small amounts[22] and upon conviction will lead to sentence to death. In the Philippines, drug traffickers are sentenced to death.

Therefore, it could be said that the issue of the drug trade and trafficking is an international issue, which could be solved by international cooperation and harmony. The enforcement of strict municipal laws is very much needed to eradicate the problem with society. Authorities are striving hard for the issue and it will be eradicated soon!!


[1] Narcotics Control in China, Information Office of the State Council of the Peoples Republic of China, Foreword. It can be accessed on

[2] History of Drug Trafficking, History.Com Editors. It can be accessed on [3] Debasish Basu and Ajit Avasthi, Strategy for the management of substance use disorders in the State of Punjab: Developing a structural model of state-level de-addiction services in the health sector (the “Punjab model”), US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. It can be accessed on [4] Punjab Govt formally notifies STF formed to fight drug menace, Express News Service, April 15, 2017. It can be accessed at [5] Drug Trafficking, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It can be accessed at [6] Illegal trafficking in the Balkans, EU-OCS, December 31, 2017. It can be accessed at [7] Available on [8] Amy Tikkanen, Pablo Escobar: 8 Interesting Facts about the King of Cocaine, Encyclopædia Britannica. It can be accessed at [9] Available on [10] Syeda Ayesha Farooq, Mohammad Hafiz Rasooly, Syed Hani Abidi, Kayvon Modjarrad & Syed Ali, Opium trade and the spread of HIV in the Golden Crescent, Harm Reduction Journal. It can be accessed at [11] Anushka Talpur Tony P. George, A review of drug policy in the Golden Crescent: Towards the development of more effective solutions, Asian Journal of Psychiatry, Volume 12, December 2014, Pages 31-35. It can be accessed at [12] Six things to know for cannabis legalization in Nepal, South Asia Check. It can be accessed at [13] Available on [14] Punjab's second richest state in the country: CII, Raj Machhan, TNN, April 08, 2004. It can be accessed at [15] At Punjab’s first Govt-run rehab, 60% addicts have hepatitis-C, Hindustan Times, Jul 23, 2018. Can BE accessed at [16] Punjab, Haryana is heroin hubs, accounted for 60% of seizure: NCB report, Hindustan Times, Dec 23, 2017. It can be accessed at [17] The 20 Countries with the Harshest Drug Laws in the World, American Addiction Centres Editorial Staff, DrugAbuse.Com. Can be accessed at [18] Drug Laws and Drug Enforcement around the World, Drug Policy Alliance. It can be accessed at [19], These 5 Countries Have the Best Drug Laws in the World, Thor Benson, May 08, 2015. It can be accessed at [20] Quick Facts: Drug Laws around the World, Toronto Public Health, April 2018. Can be accessed at [21]Drake Baer, 5 countries experimenting with liberal drug laws, March 31, 2016. It can be accessed at [22] Alan Travis, Eleven countries studied, one inescapable conclusion – the drug laws don’t work, October 30, 2014. Can be accessed at

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