Drug trafficking involves the illegal manufacture, distribution and sale of substances such as heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, pharmaceuticals and others. Over the years, there have been penalties ranging in severity from death to hefty fines and lengthy jail sentences for smuggling drugs.
The death penalty has been used as a tool in the “war on drugs” and drug-related offenses, including charges from drug trafficking to drug possession. Drug-related offenses are punishable by death in more than 30 countries — including China, Indonesia, Iran, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
Many of these countries justify the use of the death penalty as a necessary means to tackle drug trafficking or problematic drug use, while countries with less stringent penalties for the same crimes have seen the benefits of prevention efforts and greater access to treatment as being more effective in reducing substance abuse and drug-related deaths.
The World Coalition reported that Singapore was an example of how harsh laws against drug-related crimes were ineffective in reducing drug trafficking. Evidently, neither drug users nor drug traffickers have been deterred by the death penalty or decades-long prison sentences, and implementing stricter penalties for drug traffickers and drug users provides no guarantee that drug use will decrease.
Worsening drug epidemic
Drug overdose deaths have become the leading cause of death in the U.S. with more than 120 people who died every day from drug overdoses in 2013. More than 44 people die every day from overdose of prescription painkillers alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Additionally, some opioid-controlled prescription drug abusers are initiating heroin use, which contributes to the increased demand for and use of heroin.
Recently, Rose A. Rudd, M.S.P.H., and colleagues from the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) in the CDC, reported that there were a total of 47,055 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2014 in the U.S., representing an increase of 6.5 percent from 2013.
The rates of opioid overdose deaths including deaths involving synthetic opioids also increased by 14 percent from 2013 to 2014, coinciding with law enforcement reports of increased availability of illicit drugs. The results of this report indicated that the opioid overdose epidemic is worsening.
Penalties for drug trafficking
The 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment (NDTA) ranked controlled prescription drugs and heroin as the most significant drug threats to the U.S. Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) traffic the majority of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana throughout the U.S. by using established transportation routes and distribution networks.
Additionally, approximately 1.4 million active street, prison and outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) members are involved in criminal activities such as street-level trafficking and distribution as their main source of revenue, committing crimes including robbery, assault, threats and intimidation for drug trafficking purposes.
In 2014, investigations conducted with local, state, federal and international partners led to the arrests of several major international criminals. Although state laws vary, federal drug trafficking penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV and V drugs include a fine of up to $5 million for an individual or $25 million for a defendant other than an individual, and imprisonment for a minimum of five years for a first offense, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Second offenses, or offenses involving death or serious bodily injury, include lengthier prison sentences, including life imprisonment, and hefty fines up to $20 million for an individual or $75 million for defendants other than an individual.
Fighting the war on drugs
In support of President Obama’s 2015 National Drug Control Strategy efforts to reduce drug use and its consequences, a total of $27.6 billion was requested by President Obama in fiscal year 2016. Of this funding, a total of $193.4 million was requested in fiscal year 2016 for the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas Program (HIDTA), a program created by Congress with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 to provide assistance to federal, state and local enforcement agencies operating in heavy drug-trafficking regions in the U.S.
In recent years, the U.S. has focused on providing more effective prevention, treatment, programs and policies to help provide support to millions of Americans who are in need of treatment or in recovery for drug or alcohol dependence. President Obama’s Strategy aims to prevent drug use before it happens and help those with addiction receive proper treatment.