Drug trafficking

Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws.

As the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) World Drug Report 2019 clearly shows, there is much work to be done to confront the many harms inflicted by drugs, to health, development, peace and security, in all regions of the world. An estimated quarter of a billion people, or around 5 per cent of the global adult population, used drugs at least once in 2015. Even more worrisome is the fact that about 29.5 million of those drug users, or 0.6 per cent of the global adult population, suffer from drug use disorders. Globally, there are an estimated minimum of 190,000 — in most cases avoidable — premature deaths from drugs, the majority attributable to the use of opioids, not counting deaths from drug-related diseases like HIV and hepatitis C.

Recent attention has focused on the threats posed by methamphetamine and new psychoactive substances (NPS). However, the manufacture of both cocaine and opioids is increasing. These drugs remain serious concerns, and the opioid crisis shows little sign of stopping. As we have seen with the NPS market, drug use, supply, trafficking routes and the substances themselves continue to shift and diversify at alarming speed.

Main opiate trafficking flows
Main cocaine trafficking flows
Main methamphetamine trafficking flows
Main ecstasy trafficking flows

The World Drug Report 2017 further looks at the links with other forms of organized crime, illicit financial flows, corruption and terrorism. It draws on the best available evidence and, most of all, highlights the fact that much more research needs to be carried out in these areas. Corruption is the great enabler of organized crime, and opportunities for corruption exist at every stage of the drug supply chain. However, too little is known about how different types of corruption interact with drug markets. There is concern about terrorist groups profiting from drug trafficking, among other forms of transnational organized crime. It is well established that there are terrorists and non-State armed groups profiting from the drug trade — by some estimates, up to 85 per cent of opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is in territory under influence of the Taliban. Relations between organized crime and terrorists groups are always evolving, much like drug markets themselves.

Drugs continue to represent a major source of revenue for organized crime networks, but business models are changing, with criminals exploiting new technologies, such as the darknet, that are altering the nature of the illicit drug trade and the types of players involved, with looser, horizontal networks and smaller groups becoming more significant. New ways of delivering drugs further point to the need to involve other sectors, such as postal services, in the fight against drug trafficking. Organized crime groups have widened their portfolio of illicit activities. New crime areas such as cybercrime and environmental crime have emerged. Almost two thirds of drug trafficking groups operating in countries in the European Union are involved in more than one crime area, according to research by the European Police Office (Europol), and that figure has been rising for years. Drug trafficking groups in Europe are frequently also involved in the counterfeiting of goods, trafficking in human beings, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in weapons. In 2014, transnational organized crime groups across the globe were estimated to have generated between approximately one fifth and one third of their rev- enues from drug sales.
Europol identified some 5,000 international organ- ized crime groups operating in countries in the European Union in 2017, and estimated that more than one third were involved in drug trafficking. This makes drug trafficking more widespread across organized crime than organized property crime, smuggling of migrants, trafficking in human beings, excise fraud or any other illicit activity.