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What is Drug Trafficking?

Laura M. Sands
Updated May 16, 2024
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Drug trafficking is the term used to describe the production, distribution and sale of illegal drugs. In the United States, such drugs include cocaine, heroin, PCP, LSD, methamphetamines and marijuana. Penalties for trafficking may vary, but in most places penalties are intended to be severe enough to discourage individuals from engaging in selling drugs.

Drug trafficking is a major source of crime worldwide. Not only is there physical danger inherent in the use of illegal drugs, but drug smuggling is also frequently accompanied by other crimes such as murder, kidnapping, prostitution and assault. Authorities work full time all over the world to prevent the use and sale of illegal drugs, as both represent enormous dangers to society.

While laws vary according to jurisdiction, individuals charged with drug possession usually face stiff penalties, which include property forfeiture, hefty fines and time in prison. In some countries, such as China, drug sales may be punishable by death. In certain jurisdictions, when people are caught smuggling or selling drugs, individuals will sometimes hire a drug lawyer who specializes in defending individuals accused of such crimes. Even with legal counsel, however, drug trafficking laws designed to deter people from producing and selling drugs are strictly applied.

In the United States, a special government agency exists for the sole purpose of monitoring and discouraging drug trafficking. The Drug Enforcement Administration, also known as the DEA, is a federal agency which exists to enforce American drug laws by thoroughly investigating people suspected of the production, distribution, smuggling and sale of illegal drugs. The DEA functions with the help and cooperation of private citizens and lawmakers, as well as other local, state and international law enforcement agencies.

A few of the other American agencies that specifically work to reduce instances of drug trafficking include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as various immigration, customs and border patrol agencies, which work to stop illegal substances from crossing national borders. The International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) also regularly coordinates with each of these agencies, and similar agencies in other countries, to discourage illegal drug sales internationally.

Globally, drug trafficking is a multibillion dollar industry. As a profitable industry, illegal drug sales also fund the purchase of illegal weapons often used to fund organized crime and civil wars in developing countries. Even with stringent law enforcement efforts and penalties, authorities worldwide engage in a constant struggle to stop the illicit drug trade.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing to her work. With a background in social sciences and extensive online work experience, she crafts compelling copy and content across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a skilled contributor to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By cougars — On May 16, 2011

@GlassAxe- You make a couple of interesting points, particularly pertaining to the reasons people in other countries get into the drug trade. If you look at any of the major drug exporting countries, they are often underdeveloped and blocked from future development because of hefty debt from lopsided development loans.

The quickest way to win the war on drugs, and extremism, is to create trade agreements that actually allow other countries to participate in fair and free trade. In some nations, illegal drugs are their only marketable good because wealthy nations are able to subsidize many of the goods that enter the world market. In these cases, highly addictive drugs that are illegal in developed nations demand a high premium. In a way, drug trafficking in the U.S. is the result of us dominating international development.

By GlassAxe — On May 14, 2011

@alchemy- In my opinion, the approach to the "war on drugs" in the last few decades has been a waste of money. Consumption and demand have increased, prisons and jails are filled with non-violent drug offenders who are folded into the recidivism cycle, and billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent with little result. In general, the approach to combating illegal drug trafficking has been to fix the problems it creates rather than identify and mitigate its systemic and institutional causes.

The nation focuses all of its resources at the lower level dealers, who are honestly replaceable. When one goes down, two more take his or her place. The focus should be on reducing demand through early education, creating peer support programs for teens, and increasing constructive activities.

The government should also focus more funds on recognizing the foreign drivers to drug trafficking. If we spent money helping nations in south/central America and the Caribbean develop economies that are more diverse, people would find more meaningful and rewarding work than cartel work.

Of course, I am open to discussion -- does anybody else have any ideas?

By Alchemy — On May 12, 2011

What have been the best methods for reducing drug trafficking? I live in a high intensity drug trafficking area along the border and politicians are often hatching elaborate plans to stop the flow of drugs and cartel gangsters across the border. I feel like some of the plans are just a waste of taxpayer money, working more as an economic stimulus rather than attacking the real problem.

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing...
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