Forensic Medicine

European Radiology

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 736-742

First online:

Drug smuggling by body packing: what radiologists should know about it

  • Klaus HerganAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, ZIR LKH Feldkirch Email author 
  • , Karl KoflerAffiliated withCustoms Police
  • , Wolfgang OserAffiliated withDepartment of Radiology, ZIR LKH Feldkirch

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Body packing is a distinct method for smuggling drugs. What radiologists need to know is discussed in this pictorial review. Radiologists are confronted with diagnostic imaging of body packers because of two main reasons: complications of body packing and identifying drug packets within the gastrointestinal tract. The standard examination used is plain X-ray of the abdomen in an upright and a supine position. Computed tomography is occasionally used but nevertheless described as a very accurate diagnostic tool. Ultrasound and MR imaging do not play an important role in that field. Depending on the purity of the drug, three different forms of attenuation have been described: hashish is denser than stool; cocaine appears similar to stool; and heroin has a gaseous transparence. The packets are of a round to oval form, usually of a particular uniformity and rarely confused with scybala if arranged like a pearl chain; therefore, plain X-ray is the method of choice to detect drug-filled packets within the gastrointestinal tract of body packers.


Drug Body packing Intoxication Emergency X-ray