Drug trafficking - Business in United States of America

Drug trafficking: Organized Trafficking Operations

Drug trafficking: The War on Drugs

Drug Enforcement Administration Drug Seizures, 1986-2007

Definition: Criminal trade in controlled and illegal substances

Significance: The illegal production and distribution of drugs has become a multibillion-dollar industry that has allowed criminal organizations to generate exorbitant profits while evading payment of taxes, thereby placing additional tax burdens on American citizens and legitimate business enterprises. Further, the illegal drug trade has taxed the resources of law-enforcement organizations at the local, state, and national levels and has forced many American businesses to spend considerable sums to combat the effects of drugs in the workplace.

Drug trafficking is not a new phenomenon in the United States. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, narcotics such as opium and morphine were often-prescribed medications, and both legal and illegal networks were established to import these drugs from the Middle East and Asia. At that time, most Americans were unaware of the long-term ill effects of addiction and ignored the establishment of opium dens and the widespread availability of morphine and other narcotics. By the early twentieth century, however, the public became alarmed at the dangers of addiction, and the U.S. government began taking serious steps to curb the importation and sale of narcotics.

Congress passed the Harrison Act of 1914 and the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act of 1922 to regulate production and distribution of certain narcotic substances. In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established to enforce laws regarding drug sales and use. Trafficking persisted, however, largely because enormous profits were available to those willing to risk penalties and jail time to supply a population addicted to substances such as opium, heroin, and morphine.

Laurence W. Mazzeno

Further Reading

  • Battacharya, Gargi. Traffick: The Illicit Movement of People and Things. London: Pluto Press, 2005. Explains the relationship of drug trafficking in America to the worldwide network involved in promoting the growth, distribution, and sales of illegal substances. 
  • Bauder, Julia, ed. Drug Trafficking. New York: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Collection of essays examining the nature and ramifications of drug trafficking in the United States and other countries. Examines the economic impact of the drug trade and its relationship to international terrorism. 
  • Booth, Martin. Opium: A History. New York: Simon& Schuster, 1996. Includes a chapter on America’s century-long struggle to control drugs, as well as one on the business aspects of drug trafficking. 
  • Clutterbuck, Richard. Drugs, Crime, and Corruption: Thinking the Unthinkable. New York: New York University Press, 1995. Traces the history of drug trafficking worldwide. Examines the economic impact of that trade and efforts by the United States and other countries to thwart those engaged in it. 
  • Kopp, Pierre. Political Economy of Illegal Drugs. New York: Routledge, 2004. Concentrates on the economic impact of drug trafficking and consumption worldwide. Analyzes problems posed by this enterprise in the United States. Includes a bibliography of additional source materials. 
  • Lyman, Michael D., and Garry W. Potter. Organized crime. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1997. Includes a chapter on the involvement of organized crime in the sale of illicit drugs in the United States. Describes methods of importation, manufacture, and distribution and provides a history of the growth of illegal drug sales in America. 
  • Reppetto, Thomas A. Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. Describes the Mafia’s involvement in the sale of illegal drugs. Explains how the drug trade exploded during the 1970’s and 1980’s and how the Mafia was displaced in drug trafficking activities by other crime groups. 

See also: Food and Drug Administration; U.S. Department of Justice; pharmaceutical industry; Prohibition; Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

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