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The Business of… Illegal Drugs

No one knows its exact scale, but it’s thought to be one of the biggest industries on the planet, amounting to almost 1 percent of global GDP. Kipp takes a look.

November 29, 2010 3:48 by


So the product is produced on a mass scale. It must then be transported; this is without doubt the riskiest, most important part of the business. Producing countries are generally poor – the product must be exported to maximize profits.

When it comes to smuggling, heroin is the most attractive product because its size lends itself to easy transport and to be easily concealed. But it’s also considered by authorities to be one of the most dangerous drugs, so the penalties of getting caught are higher. Afghanistan is widely accepted as being the biggest producer on the globe, providing something like 90 percent of the supply. Along with other producers from the Golden Crescent it has benefitted vastly from the break-up of the Soviet Union – drugs can now be moved with relative ease through under resourced former Soviet countries that fail to co-ordinate anti-smuggling efforts. Drugs also move East through Asian ports and onto the US, one of the biggest global market for drugs.

Unfortunately, owing to its clandestine nature, figures on trafficking can only be a based on seizures. Recently these show that cocaine seizures globally have steadied, though there is a shift way from Europe and North America towards Central and South America. West Africa is also a hotspot. Amphetamine seizures tripled early in the decade, and have now stabilized at “very high levels,” says the UN. Cannabis seizures have also increased in recent years.


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