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Fate Of Drug Mules

Who Is Drug Mule


Drug mule refers to someone who is willing or being tricked to become a courier, carrying drugs or other contraband into other countries. This tactic reduces the risk of those drug dealers or smugglers to be arrested. International criminal syndicate will utilize social networking via the internet to lure young women to be their surrogates and drug mules in Asia.

Investigation conducted by International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) found that their main target is women of Malaysia, Singapore and other Southeast Asia and East Asia countries. Women aged 20-30s who do not have any criminal records and are unemployed or work in clerical, sales and service are very suitable as drug mules. They are willingly being used in order to pursue luxuries or wish to get rich quickly. In year 2006, a record from Bukit Aman Narcotic Criminal Investigation Department (NCID) had found that 31 people including 4 foreign women were arrested for drug trafficking.

Between January – March 2008, there were 9 Malaysians arrested for drug trafficking in foreign countries. They were found to be easily swayed by the love of “Lombok Man”, “Arabic Man” and the latest handler love of “Black Man”. Former Deputy of Home Minister Datuk Wira Abu Seman Yusop said the number of drug mules in year 2009 decreased to 20 people compared to year 2008 (45 people) and year 2007 (54 people) as a result of information campaigns by National Anti Drug Agency (NADA) and Bukit Aman NCID. The agency describes the modus operandi of the syndicates dedicated to women in higher education institutions and the public (Utusan Malaysia 2009).

Smuggling Techniques

Smuggling is the act of transporting goods or people illegally and secretly, such as out of a building, into a prison, or pass through international barrier, in which it is against the laws or regulations.


Methods of smuggling may include hiding items in the vehicle, luggage or clothes, binding on the body or by swallowing. In the case of transporting illegal drugs, this is often done using a mule’s gastrointestinal tract or other body cavities as containers. Another smuggling method involves swallowing latex balloons (often condoms or fingers of latex gloves) or special pellets filled with the goods and recovering them from the feces upon defecation later on. Other methods of carrying drugs within the body include insertion of the package directly into the anus or vagina. Body packing means the drugs are attached to the outside of the body, using tape or glue, packed between the cheeks of bottom or rolls of fat. Other inconspicuous places, like the bottom of special cut out shoes, inside belts, or the rim of a hat, were used more often prior to the early 90’s. However, due to increase airport security, the “body packing” method is rarely used anymore. One of the case examples was a 24-year-old Indian woman originated from Klang, Selangor who was detained in Soto Del Real prison in Madrid since March 21, 2008 because an international drug syndicate forced her to swallow 100 capsules of cocaine and smuggled from Brazil to Spain (Utusan Malaysia 2009). An increasingly popular type of swallowing involves having the drug in the form of liquid-filled balloons, condoms, capsules or packages. Note that a liquid mixture of water and the drug will most likely not be detected using a standard X-Ray machine. These are impossible to detect unless the airport has high-sensitivity X-Ray equipment in which can only be found at most of major airports in Europe, Canada and the US.

Native Countries of Drugs

Cultivation of natural plants for illegal drugs such as poppies for opium in South Asia (Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, Burma, Laos, Thailand) especially Afghanistan has been steadily increased up to 36% in year 2013. Production of MDMA (3,4–Methylenedioxy methamphetamine) also known as Ecstasy pills and the ketamine trafficking, on the other hand are also increasing in our neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia (Utusan Malaysia 2010). The main supply of these drugs are in fact taken from Argentina and Spain and smuggled to the third world countries. In other countries, the cost of bringing drugs from Argentina to Peru is cheaper in the addition such that only 8-year prison is sentenced towards the drug smugglers in Peru, compared to in Malaysia; they can be mandatorily suspended upon conviction.


Having said that there are more advanced cases occurred in Canada-Mexico-US borders whereby drug traffickers used improvised cannon, homemade semi-submersible vessel, powerboat, ultra-light aircraft, illegal cross-over underground tunnel, weed-firing catapults, carrier pigeons, pretending disabled and even drug implanted in breast (Attila 2013). Drug smugglers also use a document and a valid passport with ground travel, working or studying or deceived by offering free holiday at abroad countries. Syndicate will also give one way ticket and using direct flights to other transit countries such as Malaysia (NADA 2013). For example on 26 August 2009, a Philippine woman, working in China has been detained at the Puduraya, Malaysia because her baggage had 5kg of drugs, which were diluted and dried on clothes. A Thai woman was one month later arrested at the Puduraya, Malaysia for bringing 2kg of cocaine inside two picture frames (Utusan Malaysia 2009).

Type of Drugs

Literally thousands of drugs and chemicals are harmful, addictive or lethal – what a headache for toxicologist. When testing for drugs, the toxicologist typically follows a two-tiered approach; the presumptive tests and confirmatory tests. Presumptive tests are sensitively used for initial screening followed by confirmatory tests to find the possible presence of specific drugs (Lyle 2004). In Malaysia, amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), cannabis and heroin still remain the most popular drugs of abuse. Nevertheless the emergence of synthetic drugs is a concern to law enforcement authorities. While the “rave” phenomenon served as the impetus for the proliferation of the methamphetamine and MDMA trafficking and their usage, in which has subsequently led to the introduction of other “drug club” as well as the surge of ketamine cases (Department of Chemistry Malaysia 2006).

Opiates are a group of naturally occurring compounds derived from the juice of the poppy Papaver somniferum which is popular in South Asia. Morphine is the classic opiate derivative used widely in medicine; heroin (diacetylmorphine) is a well-known, highly addictive street narcotic. The term opioids refers to opiates, other derivatives of naturally occurring opium (e.g. morphine, heroin, codeine and hydrocodone) and also totally synthetic opiate analogs e.g. methadone. In general, opioids stimulate opiate receptors in central nervous system, causing sedation and respiratory depression (Olson 2004).

Pelbagai jenis dadah

Candu Papaver somniferum




Cannabis sativa








Cara Hisap Ketamin

Ujian dadah air kencing

Hallucinogens alter perceptions and mood, lead to delusional thinking, and cause hallucinations. By far the most commonly used and mildest hallucinogen is marijuana. It is a cannabinoid and derives from the Cannabis sativa plant which is popular in Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Thailand, South Africa and Nigeria. Most state laws prohibit the possession of any cannabis resins. The active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in marijuana at a concentration of 2 – 6%. The body breaks down THC into a series of compounds inclusive of 9-carboxy-THC, which is the major urinary metabolite. In suspected users, presumptive chemical testing typically involves the Duquenois-Levine test which shows a purple color change in the presence of any type of cannabinoids inclusive of THC in their urine. Other presumptive tests include TLC and GC and confirmatory testing is done by MS (Lyle 2004). Neal L. Benowitz, professor in University of California stated that marijuana is usually smoked in cigarettes called “Joints” or “Reefers”, or is dried and compressed resin called “Hashish”. Both cause catecholamine release resulting in tachycardia as well as inhibition of sympathetic reflexes in which resulting in orthostatic hypotension. Intravenous use may cause dyspnea, fever, shock, acute renal failure and death (Olson 2004).

Date-rape drugs or rave drugs have been the subject of a considerable number of criminal actions and civil litigations. The major date-rape drugs are ketamine (ketamine hydrochloride) and Ecstasy or MDMA. Both drugs cause sedation, a degree of poor judgement and amnesia of events that can occur while under their influence. A criminal can easily slip a small amount of these drugs into drink of seemingly innocuous water for a victim. The victim may then leave with the would-be assailant because the drug impairs judgement and enhances euphoria. Only later does the victim realize that something happened, but her memories of events are spotty or even absent altogether. These drugs are often cut and combined with other materials such as talc or mixed with other drugs by the time they reach the street (Lyle 2004). Timothy E. Albertson, professor in University of California stated that methamphetamine (crank, speed), MDMA, Ecstasy and several other amphetamine derivatives are used orally and intravenously as illicit stimulants. “Ice” is a smokable form of methamphetamine. These drugs have low therapeutic index, with toxicity at level slightly above usual doses in which may be life threatening.  However, a high degree of tolerance can develop after repeated use (Olson 2004).

Gregory Cham, toxicology fellow of California Poison Control System stated that street names for ketamine include “Jet”, “Kit-kat”, “Special K”, “Special LA Coke”, “Super C” and “Vitamin K”. Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic that produce generalized loss of pain perception with little or no depression of airway reflexes and ventilation. Renal elimination is an important route of elimination for norketamine, the active metabolite of ketamine. The higher recreational doses are purported to achieve a psychic state called “the K-hole”. Chronic ketamine abuse may also cause memory impairment (Olson 2004).

Urine toxicology tests may be necessary to determine what drugs are being carried and what antidotes are needed. All of them mentioned above can be easily detected using combination of GC/MS. Duration of detection in urine of drug-facilitated assault victims is ranging from 1 – 3 days for these drugs of abuse except cannabis which requires 2 – 5 days after single use (Olson 2004).

Encouragement for Smuggling


Smuggling is driven by a variety of reasons. These include illegal drug trade, illegal entry and immigration, taxation, smuggling of illicit goods to detainees, or trafficking of stolen goods. Other non-financial reasons, including carrying prohibited items passing through a security checkpoint such as airport or removal of classified documents from government offices or companies. Drug smuggling is caused by the emergence of processing equipments found in a large clandestine laboratory producing illicit drugs in any countries. For instance in year 2004, 33 illegal ketamine laboratories were demolished in China and yet to determine how many more left behind. Moreover, nightclubs, discos, bars and music festivals become the prime locations for drug activity and the spread of drug messages to the drug mules (Utusan Malaysia 2010). In fact, the drug mules will attempt to cross international borders, excrete the capsules or balloons, and then sell the drugs for high profit. It is far more common for the drug mules to be making the trip on behalf of a drug dealer.

Drug mules are often impoverished and agree to transport the drugs in exchange for money or other favors. In fewer cases, the drug dealers can attempt extortion against people by threatening physical harm against friends or family, but the more common practice is for drug mules to willingly accept the job in exchange for big payoffs. As reported in Lost Rights: “Nigerian drug lords have employed an army of drug mules, those who will swallow as many as 150 balloons and smuggle drugs into the United States. Given the per capita yearly income of Nigeria is $2,100, Nigerians can collect as much as $15,000 per trip” (Bovard 1995).


In Malaysia, Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (Amendment 1998) is an act to make provisions relating to the jurisdiction of the court to control the importation, exportation, manufacture, sale and use of opiates (1kg) and a number of certain dangerous drugs, namely heroin (15g), morphine (15g), marijuana (200g), cocaine (40g), coca leaves (2kg), the ATS e.g. methamphetamine / Ecstasy tablets (50g). Possession of weights in brackets of each drug was sentenced to mandatory death against the offender. Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act 1985 also provides for preventive detention of persons associated with any activity connected with trafficking in dangerous drugs (Department of Chemistry Malaysia 2009).

Drug trafficker not always willing to reveal the contents of drug-contained packages either because of fears to law enforcement agencies or the drug mule genuinely does not know. In addition, routine detection of the smuggled packages is extremely difficult. Intact drug packages may sometimes be detected by rectal or vaginal examination, but the only reliable way is by doing X-ray of the abdomen. Hashish appears denser than stool; cocaine is approximately the same density as stool, while heroin looks like air (Hergan et al. 2004). In most cases, it is only necessary to wait for the packages to pass out through intestines as usual, but if a package ruptures or if there is intestinal obstruction, then it may be necessary to remove the packages surgically. Oil-based laxatives should never be used, as they can weaken the latex of condoms and cause packets to rupture (Traub t al. 2003).

Emetics like syrup ipecac, enemas, and endoscopic retrieval all carry a risk of packet rupture and should not be used (Pidoto et al. 2002). Ruptured packets often require treatment as for a drug overdose and may require admission to an intensive care unit (ICU) and in some cases may subsequently lead to death of these drug mules (Dueñas-Laita et al. 2004).


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Last Reviewed : 23 August 2019
Writer : Lai Poh Soon
Accreditor : Dr. Khairul Anuar bin Zainun
Reviewer : Dr. Khoo Lay See