A Vietnamese man threw up a small bag containing white powder on a flight to Australia on Monday. The plane returned to Vietnam, where the man was arrested for heroin trafficking.
You’ve seen it so often in the movies: 80 swallowed cocaine capsules, the sweating passenger, the suspicious customs official. For a lot of drug mules it’s the reality. Health24 decided to find out more about this type of drug trafficking.
A drug mule is someone who smuggles drugs on their person or in their luggage across borders. Their desperate need for cash could cost them their health and their lives, or they could land in jail. So who does this for a living and how is it done?
Here are 10 facts on drug mules:
- Drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, are often placed in condoms, and are then swallowed by a drug mule in order to evade detection by customs officials.
- An average drug mule can swallow between 80 – 125 of these pellets. These would contain a total of 800g – 1,25kg.
- Apart from imprisonment, the biggest danger to a drug mule is the possibility of the rupturing of one of these pellets. Stomach acids can sometimes cause this. Death is usually very quick, as the quantity of drugs ingested is so high. Heart failure and breathing problems are usually the cause of death.
- Drug mules often take medication to inhibit bowel movements for the flight. Sometimes they are also given tables to reduce acid production in the stomach. Once on the other side, they are given laxatives and the pellets pass through their digestive systems. If they are caught by customs officials, they are often locked in a room where there is a receptacle of some sort and they stay there until they have passed all the pellets.
- Things that alert customs officials include the following: a passenger who appears to be overweight (and who might have strapped drugs onto their bodies); a passenger who is exceptionally nervous; a woman travelling alone, who has little luggage and is not dressed for the expected weather conditions in the country of destination; passengers who carry gifts or parcels for other people. X-rays, urine tests and sniffer dogs are used to detect the presence of drugs.
- A drug mule could earn as little as $3 000 or less for a trip. Drug lords, who commission the mules can sometimes make 100 times more than that when selling the drugs brought in by the mules.
- The majority of drug mules are male, but the number of women doing this, is on the increase. The women are often from poor communities and are viewed as dispensable by the drug lords. Drug mules are usually in their twenties or thirties, but people up to the ages of 72 have been caught doing this.
- In one year (2002/2003) at J.F. Kennedy airport in New York, 145 drug mules were intercepted. Of these, 38 were female and 107 were male.
- Drugs wrapped in condoms can also be stored in the rectum. Drugs have also been transported in suitcases with false bottoms, in babies’ nappies, inside hollow statues, strapped to the body of the mule, or inside containers such as shampoo bottles, to name but a few.
- In several countries drug trafficking is a capital offence. These include Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Saudi-Arabia and Vietnam.
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, May 2007)