The Transnational Organisation of the Drugs Trade

  • Peter EnderwickEmail author
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 68)


The international trade in illicit drugs, one of the largest industries in the world economy, is firmly under the control of transnational criminal organisations (TCOs). These groups have prospered under a long standing regime of drug prohibition. This chapter examines the global drugs trade with three main aims. First, it outlines the nature of the illicit drug industry, its size and methods of organisation. We find that there are marked similarities in the ways in which both legitimate and illegitimate international businesses are organised, in part because both have responded to continuing globalisation. Both types of businesses are fragmenting, partially externalising activities, and increasing locational flexibility. Second, we consider the impact of new technologies on the illicit drugs industry. It is apparent that TCOs are using such technologies to both improve the efficiency of their operations and to reduce the likelihood of their detection. This creates significant challenges for drug law enforcement agencies. Third, we consider the ethics of the global drugs industry. The key ethical challenge for an industry which generates huge social, economic and health costs is whether continuation of a 40 year war on drugs founded on prohibition, is more ethically acceptable than an evidence-based approach focusing on harm reduction. The drugs policy reform debate is a vibrant and sweeping one, currently attracting massive interest worldwide.


Harm Reduction Money Laundering Drug Policy Criminal Group Organise Crime 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alertnet. 2011. Colombians seek refuge in Ecuador. AlertNet (14 January).
  2. Associated Press. 2010. After 40 years, $1 trillion, U.S. war on drugs has failed to meet any of its goals. Associated Press (13 May).Google Scholar
  3. Barrett, D., C. Cook, R. Lines, G. Stimson, and J. Bridge. 2009. Harm reduction and human rights. The global response to drug-related HIV epidemics. London: International Harm Reduction Association.Google Scholar
  4. Berl economics. 2009. Costs of harmful alcohol and other drug use. Final Report to Ministry of Health and ACC BERL Economics, Wellington, New Zealand.Google Scholar
  5. Bostock, D. 2000. Aristotle’s ethics. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Brenner, S.W., and J.J. Schwerha IV. 2002. Transnational evidence gathering and local prosecution of international cybercrime. The John Marshall Journal of Computer and Information Law 20(3): 347.Google Scholar
  7. Buckley, P.J. 2011. International integration and coordination in the global factory. Management International Review 51(2): 269–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2011. Office of justice programs.
  9. Carl, T. 2009. Progress in Mexico drug war is drenched in blood. Associated Press (Nov 3).Google Scholar
  10. Dalrymple, T. 2006. Romancing opiates: Pharmacological lies and the addiction bureaucracy. New York: Encounter.Google Scholar
  11. Dorsey, T.L., and P. Middleton. 2010. Drugs and crime facts. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.Google Scholar
  12. Drug Policy Alliance. 2010. Making your voice heard 2010 annual report. New York: Drug Policy Alliance.Google Scholar
  13. Dunning, J.H. 2000. The eclectic paradigm as an envelope for economic and business theories of MNE activity. International Business Review 9: 163–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Eberstadt, M., and M.A. Layden. 2010. The social costs of pornography. Princeton, NJ: The Witherspoon Institute.Google Scholar
  15. Economist. 2001. Stumbling in the dark: Special report on illegal drugs. The Economist (28 July).Google Scholar
  16. Enderwick, P. 2009. Applying the eclectic framework: The strategy of transnational criminal enterprises in the global era. Critical Perspectives in International Business 5(3): 170–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). 2000. Crime in the United States, 1999. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  18. Fieser, E. 2011. Drug addiction surges in Dominican Republic. GlobalPost (22 August).Google Scholar
  19. Fitzpatrick, M. 2000. The tyranny of health: Doctors and the regulation of lifestyle. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  20. Gaviria, A., and D. Mejia. 2011. Anti-drugs policies in Colombia: Successes, failures and wrong turns. Bogota: Ediciones Uniandes.Google Scholar
  21. Gereffi, G., J. Humphrey, and T. Sturgeon. 2005. The governance of global value chains. Review of International Political Economy 12(1): 78–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gettman, J. 2006. Marijuana production in the United States. The Bulletin of Cannabis Reform 2: 1–28.Google Scholar
  23. Girion, L., S. Glover, and D. Smith. 2011. Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the U.S., data shows. Los Angeles Times.Google Scholar
  24. Global Commission on Drug Policy. 2011. War on drugs. Report of the global commission on drug policy.
  25. Greenwald, G. 2009. Drug decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for creating fair and successful drug policies. Washington: Cato Institute.Google Scholar
  26. Hagemann, H. 2008. Consequences of the new information and communication technologies for growth, productivity and employment. Competitiveness Review 18(1/2): 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Harm Reduction International. 2010. The global state of harm reduction 2010. London: Harm Reduction International.Google Scholar
  28. Hathaway, A. 2001. Shortcomings of harm reduction: Toward a morally invested drug reform strategy. International Journal of Drug Policy 12: 125–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Havocscope. 2012. Estimates of global drug trafficking.
  30. Hernandez, D. 2011. How many have died in Mexico’s drug war? Los Angeles Times (7 June).Google Scholar
  31. Heyne, P. 2008. An economic perspective on illegal drugs. In: Are economists basically immoral? and other essays in economics, ethics and religion. Indianapolis: Liberty fund.Google Scholar
  32. Hughes, C.E., and A. Stevens. 2010. What can we learn from the Portuguese decriminalization of illicit drugs? British Journal of Criminology 50(6): 999–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. INCB. 2001. Report of the international narcotics control board for 2001. Globalisation and new technologies: Challenges to drug law enforcement in the 21st century. Vienna: INCB.Google Scholar
  34. Johnston, L.D., P.M. O’Malley, J.G. Bachman, and J.E. Schulenberg. 2011. Monitoring the future: National survey results on drug use 1975–2010 vol 1, secondary school students. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.Google Scholar
  35. Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy. 2009. Drugs and democracy: Towards a paradigm shift.
  36. Lee, H.G., and T.H. Clark. 1996. Impacts of the electronic marketplace on transaction cost and market structures. International Journal of Electronic Commerce 1(1): 127–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Lyons, D. 1965. Forms and limits of utilitarianism. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. McConnell International. 2000. Cyber crime…and punishment? Archaic laws threaten global information. Washington DC: McConnell International.Google Scholar
  39. Miller, P. 2001. A critical review of the harm minimization ideology in Australia. Critical Public Health 11(2): 167–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Naim, M. 2005. Illicit: How smugglers, traffickers and copycats are hijacking the global economy. New York: Doubleday.Google Scholar
  41. Newcombe, R. 2004. Attitudes to drug policy and drug laws: A review of the international evidence.
  42. NIDA. 2010. Drugs, brains, and behavior: The science of addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  43. North, D.C., J.J. Wallis, and B.R. Weingast. 2006. A conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history. NBER Working Paper No 12795. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
  44. No 10 Strategy Unit. 2003. No 10 strategy unit drugs report phase one—understanding the issues, 12 May, London.Google Scholar
  45. Nutt, D., L.A. King, W. Saulsbury, and C. Blakemore. 2007. Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse. Lancet 369: 1047–1053.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Okrent, D. 2010. The rise and fall of prohibition. New York: Scribner.Google Scholar
  47. ONDCP. 2004. The economic costs of drug abuse in the United States, 1992–2002. Washington DC: Executive Office of the President (Publication No 207303).Google Scholar
  48. Palmateer, N., J. Kimber, M. Hickman, S. Hutchinson, T. Rhodes, and D. Goldberg. 2010. Evidence for the effectiveness of sterile injecting equipment provision in preventing hepatitis C and human immunodeficiency virus transmission among injecting drug users: A review of reviews. Addiction 105(5): 844–859.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Popper, K.R. 1945. The open society and its enemies, vol. 1. Plato. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  50. Romero, S. 2010. Coca production makes a comeback in Peru. The New York Times.Google Scholar
  51. Smith, P. 2002. Drugs, morality and the law. Journal of Applied Philosophy 19(3): 233–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2011. Results of the 2010 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings. NSDUH Series H 41. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.Google Scholar
  53. Transform. 2006. After the war on drugs: Options for control. Bristol: Transform Drug Policy Foundation.Google Scholar
  54. Transform. 2009. After the war on drugs: Blueprint for regulation. Bristol: Transform Drug Policy Foundation.Google Scholar
  55. Travis, A. 1998. Drugs ‘boosting property crime’. The Guardian (22 April).Google Scholar
  56. UNODC. 2002. Results of a pilot survey of 40 selected organized criminal groups in 16 countries: Global programme against transnational organised crime. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  57. UNODC. 2008. World drug report 2008. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  58. UNODC. 2011a. World drug report 2011. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  59. UNODC. 2011b. Global study on homicides: Trends/contexts/data. Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.Google Scholar
  60. U.S. Department of State. 2010. International narcotics control strategy report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.Google Scholar
  61. Van Cleave, M.K. 2007. Counterintelligence and national strategy. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Walker, S. 1994. Sense and nonsense about crime and drugs: A policy guide. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.Google Scholar
  63. Werb, D., G. Rowell, G. Guyatt, T. Kerr, J. Montaner, and E. Wood. 2011. Effect of drug law enforcement on drug market violence: A systematic review. International Journal of Drug Policy 22(2): 87–94.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Winterdyk, J., B. Perrin, and P. Reichel (eds.). 2011. Human trafficking: Exploring the international nature, concerns and complexities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
  65. Yeh, A. 2006. China becoming drawn into global drugs trade. Financial Times (June 23).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Auckland University of TechnologyAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations