Social Issue of International Drug Trafficking

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 7
Words: 1972
Reading time:
8 min
Study level: College


In the era of globalization, social problems have traversed national boundaries, posing severe challenges to the international community. Drug trafficking, terrorism, and corruption are some of society’s critical challenges that have necessitated collaborative solutions on a global scale. Notably, weak border control policies, increased substance abuse, and a lack of efficient anti-drug campaigns have contributed to the high rate of international drug trafficking. Nevertheless, policy change, international cooperation, and enhancing collaboration among a country’s administrative, health, and financial departments prove to be viable solutions to this global challenge.

Background Information

Drug Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling

Drug trafficking as a social epidemic has grown out of a number of interrelated national and international conditions. First, immigration is among the widely discussed issues in regard to interrelations among countries at the regional and global levels. Sanchez and Zhang (2018) note that the connection between migrant communities and the rise of drug trafficking groups has attracted different views among analysts. It can be noted that inhibited mobility of individuals has led to illegal migrations, forcing individuals to seek survival means outside the law. Although nations have implemented migration policies to improve internal affairs, the result has been an increase in illegal migrations, powered by the struggle for survival in harsh economic and social environments.

Drug trafficking is not only attributed to powerful and well-connected cartels but also to vulnerable community members. Rather than being a case of illegal convergence, connections between drug and migrant smuggling through the US-Mexico border have gotten worse as a consequence of the War on narcotics and the suppression of movement (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). This has led to the emergence of private entities along the clandestine path that choose to perform criminalized projects as their personal endeavors to survive, not purely defined by coercion or choice. Cartels and migrant trafficking organizations are far from exclusive or restricted networks directed by people in fixed positions of power. From Sanchez and Zhang’s (2018) analysis, participation barriers are low, allowing an increasing number of ordinary and impoverished people with no drug convictions to participate in drug and migrant trafficking. These disadvantaged individuals have found themselves trapped between the desire to survive and a loophole for illegal dealings.

Terrorism and Drug Trafficking

Narcotics have been viewed as the primary source of financial aid for terrorist groups. One of the reasons behind the growth of the drug trade is the lack of appropriate measures to detect it in the economic stream. Omelicheva and Markowitz (2018) assert that terrorist groups have taken advantage of secret narcotic smuggling routes to finance their illegal activities on the national and international scales. However, the debate on whether terrorism causes drug trafficking or the converse has been ongoing, with opposing sides presenting viable explanations. Nevertheless, the link between the illicit drug trade and international terrorism is well articulated.

High unemployment rates and political instability are also viable explanations for the rise of global terrorism. However, drug trafficking, measured by the volume of confiscated drugs, has a higher impact on international crime than all other factors. As shown in fig. 1 below, when all conditions are held equal, a rise of 1 kilogram in Afghan opioid confiscation in a province-year is linked to a 1% increase in the occurrences of terrorist casualties (Omelicheva & Markowitz, 2018). Among all metrics of the drug trade, heroin seizures tend to have the most significant influence. The average anticipated count of terrorist occurrences is zero when all other co-variants are kept at their measured values and heroin discoveries are kept at zero for all observations (Omelicheva & Markowitz, 2018). Based on this data, it can be shown that as the narcotics trade expands, the rate of international terrorism grows.

Impact of the drug trade on terrorism
Figure 1: Impact of the drug trade on terrorism (Omelicheva & Markowitz, 2018).

Justification of the Problem

The illegal narcotics trade has had significant implications on national and international relations, including trade and education. One of the critical areas of interest has been its contribution to terrorism, which disrupts peace, thereby becoming a social challenge worthy of consideration. Drug trafficking can aid terrorism in a variety of ways, including diverse socio-economic and geographical characteristics. Omelicheva and Markowitz (2018) comment that one type of interaction between the drug market and terrorism is characterized as the appropriation of activities in the crime-terror discourse. In this case, a politically driven terrorist group resorts to criminal behaviors in the hopes of supporting the group in achieving its ideological goals. A typical scenario depicting the impact of drug trafficking on terrorism is one in which a terrorist organization that needs cash turns to the drug trade or taxes the manufacture and movement of narcotics via territory under its influence.

A nation’s political stability and, by extension, international collaboration are significantly hampered by illegal substance markets. Hezbollah and the Taliban are commonly regarded as prototypical drug-trafficking terrorist organizations with a lengthy history of drug-trafficking coordination (Omelicheva & Markowitz, 2018). Both originated from conflict-torn parts of the globe with the thriving drug trade and seized control of the thriving drug market and cross-border potential for narcotics trafficking along with weaponry and people within these areas. By the 2000s, they had established extensive international distribution networks, allowing them to expand their operations well beyond their native country in pursuit of political objectives (Omelicheva & Markowitz, 2018). As a country attempts to rescue its citizen from the control of criminal organizations, its national policies are affected. Velez-Navarro (2018) records that the move by the Colombian government to criminalize some of the weakest forces for substance smuggling has had negative ramifications. These effects, along with the deterred goals and delayed national progress, make drug trafficking an international social issue.

Drug trafficking can also have indirect and widespread effects on terrorist dynamics, such as altering a country’s socio-political and economic milieu and the state’s participation in narcotics trafficking. In response, the United Nations and member nations have repeatedly expressed concern about the detrimental consequences of the drug market on growth, peace, stability, and human rights (Jonsson et al., 2016). In turn, critical expansion, security problems, and human rights violations have been linked to an increase in systematic crime and terrorism trends in countries around the world. The economic impact of drug trafficking is enormous since it puts a load on countries’ healthcare systems, reduces economic output, and destabilizes economic structures. Evidently, formulating policies and codes for terrorism control is resource-intensive, as Dima and Haratau (2015) shows. Based on these observations, several researchers have focused on different aspects of global terrorism, from which the gap can be identified for future solutions.

Validity, Reliability, Biases, Strengths, Weaknesses, and Gaps in Current Literature

The efficacy of penal codes in facilitating behavior change has been subject to research by several scholars. Dima and Haratau (2015) approach the issue from the point of punitive measures and reduced terrorism rates on a global scale. First, they argue that reducing the heaviness of punishment for first-time offenders is set to encourage behavior change, lowering the level of criminal activity. Although their argument is valid and reliable, it is biased. Dima and Haratau (2015) failed to consider the element of motive, whereby an individual will be prompted to repeat the same crime for as long as their desires are satisfied. In the same line, Velez-Navarro (2018) asserts that as Colombia enacted heavy punitive measures to combat the narcotics trade, it only succeeded in fighting the weak links. Comparably, both sources reveal that the level of punishment should be matched to the desired effect. They are vital in unmasking the connection between law enforcement and the drug trade, but they miss the sociological aspect of correction.

The link between rebels, terrorists, and drug trafficking activities has been extensively addressed by Jonsson et al. (2016) and Omelicheva and Markowitz (2018). While the former looked at the role of peace negotiations between the state and rebels in Colombia and Myanmar, the latter focused on organized terrorist groups acting out of personal political ambitions. According to Jonsson et al. (2016), peace processes have led to a reduced narcotics trade. Although they present actionable and reliable data, Jonsson et al. (2016) fail to show the compromises made by the government toward the peace agreement. At the same time, Omelicheva and Markowitz L. (2018) are biased as they focus on the confiscated drugs in their research, ignoring the highest percentage of undetected drugs and their social impact. Lastly, Sanchez and Zhang (2018) address the connection between immigration and drug trafficking. The weakness herein is the assumption that immigrants contribute more to the drug trade than local residents. This analysis reveals the gap – developing a global social-economic approach.


Since the narcotics trade has become a global issue, viable solutions entail collaborative efforts between nations while considering the social, economic, and political dimensions. The first solution involves a careful evaluation of current policies. For example, nations such as Colombia need to assess the efficacy of their penal codes and target the stronger forces of influence while minimizing efforts made towards the weaker areas of influence. This presents a viable solution since Velez-Navarro (2018) shows that Columbia has maintained high substance trafficking rates despite its high stringent anti-drug trafficking laws. The second approach entails a collaboration between the health sector and social institutions to create awareness regarding substance abuse and its effects. Notably, many people, including immigrants, have fallen victim to drug peddling, unaware of the consequences (Sanchez & Zhang, 2018). For this reason, creating public awareness would significantly minimize the participation of individuals in the illegal trade.

The third solution is formulated from the global nature of the problem at hand. In essence, combating drug trafficking requires international collaboration. Concerning border controls, neighboring nations need to agree on measures to prevent smuggling between them. In addition, issues such as peace negotiations require international involvement, as shown by Jonsson et al. (2016). Consequently, nations need to assist each other in terms of financial aid, military resources, and diplomatic assistance. In summary, these approaches offer potential solutions to the rapidly increasing international drug smuggling rates as they limit individual participation and offer lasting solutions to nations’ political and socio-economic stability.

Ethical Outcomes and Related Concerns

While addressing narcotics at the international level, ethical issues should be considered to minimize any repercussions of presented results. Human freedom is one of the ethical outcomes expected from the solutions above. By changing the penal codes to limit the punishment given to first-time offenders, their freedom will be assured. However, there are two main issues arising from this approach. First, criminal justice requires that all offenders be held accountable for their crimes. Second, limiting punishment may encourage more individuals to commit similar crimes in the hope of serving a shorter sentence. Notably, this approach requires a balance between human freedom and the law to ensure that optimum results are obtained without sacrificing the basic requirements.

Tightening border security to handle migrant smuggling through international collaboration presents another ethical outcome-humanitarian assistance inhibition. To minimize narcotics and immigrant smuggling, nations may adopt more stringent measures blocking some needy individuals from immigrating. One of the issues that arise here is that allowing an influx of immigrants impacts the national resources and may lead to food crises for the citizens. The second concern is that diplomatic relations may be destroyed if individuals seeking assistance are rejected on the basis of strict laws directed by the need to curb drug peddling.


Conclusively, drug trafficking as a critical social issue can be addressed through policy change, international cooperation, and effective collaboration among the national health, security, and law enforcement departments. Historical analysis reveals that narcotics smuggling can be attributed to migrant trafficking, terrorism, and strict government policies. Literature analysis on current research and trends has revealed that viable solutions should traverse a nation’s economic sector, criminal justice departments, and international policies.


Dima, T., & Haratau, A. (2015). Impact of enactment of the new penal code on the offence of international high risk drug trafficking. Challenges of the Knowledge Society, 21.

Jonsson, M., Brennan, E., & O’Hara, C. (2016). Financing war or facilitating peace? The impact of rebel drug trafficking on peace negotiations in Colombia and Myanmar. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 39(6), 542-559.

Omelicheva, M., & Markowitz, L. (2018). Does drug trafficking impact terrorism? Afghan opioids and terrorist violence in central Asia. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 42(12), 1021-1043.

Sanchez, G., & Zhang, S. (2018). Rumors, encounters, collaborations, and survival: The migrant smuggling–drug trafficking nexus in the U.S. southwest. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 676(1), 135-151.

Velez-Navarro, J. (2018). Taking criminal law seriously: Towards decriminalizing the weakest links of drug trafficking in Colombia. Texas Hispanic Journal of Law and Policy, 25, 33.