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A definition of 'drug mules' for use in a European context

EMCDDA, Lisbon, March 2012

Publication type:

Thematic papers


The trafficking of drugs and, in particular, the use of human carriers (often called ‘drug mules’) remains a relatively hidden phenomenon, on which limited information is available. This latest EMCDDA Thematic paper explores whether a common definition of ‘drug mules’ can be developed in the European context and assesses the implications of this for data gathering and future research. The paper has its roots in a questionnaire launched by the EMCDDA in 2010 to test a proposed conceptual framework of drug couriers. Taking part in the survey were experienced professionals, academics and practitioners from a variety of countries, legal traditions and law-enforcement practices. Drug mules are reported to be transporting all of the major illicit drug types through Europe and making full use of all European transport routes. This paper draws a number of conclusions and recommendations for further investigation into drug markets and related responses.

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English (en)

Table of contents

  • Introduction and background
  • Drug markets: official data sources and law enforcement
  • Drug markets: the academic view
  • (Re)conceptualisation and (re)definition
  • EMCDDA survey results and feedback
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions
  • Annexes







Catalogue number:


About the EMCDDA

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) is the reference point on drugs and drug addiction information in Europe. Inaugurated in Lisbon in 1995, it is one of the EU's decentralised agencies. Read more >>

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 13 March 2012