Home Counterdrug Operations Forms of Drug Smuggling

Forms of Drug Smuggling


Around two million pounds of illegal drugs were seized by United States Customs and Border Protection. Smugglers tried to sneak in paraphernalia in a variety of unbelievable ways, including using a catapult.

President Trump has recently been ridiculed for expressing safety concern over people operating border walls. He suggested that drug smugglers could potentially harm the American Border Patrol and then throw their bags of drugs over the barriers. “‘As horrible as it sounds,’ the president said, ‘when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them — they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over’” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.).

Although there have not been any reports of violence near border walls, the federal government fears that it will soon lead to that since they implemented stricter regulations. They have increased the number of patrol agents, drones, sensors and cameras.

In the past, smugglers have been known to use a vas multitude of methods to get drugs across the border. “According to interviews with agents from the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, congressional testimony and court records… about two million pounds of illegal drugs were seized by Customs and Border Protection last year” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.). 

The majority of illegal substances enter the U.S. through vehicle transport. Drugs have been found hidden in secret compartments in door panels, on the roof, in gas tanks, in tires and engines.

“As of March 2016, a total of 224 tunnels were discovered on the Southwest border since 1990” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.). Smugglers also dig “cross-border tunnels” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.) to move large amounts of marijuana. Some tunnels have lighting, tracks, ventilation systems and elevators.

Cargo trains, tractor trailers and “passenger buses” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.) have a history of transporting drugs as well. Trucks and trains carrying produce have been used to bring in narcotics. Drug shipments are usually painted green and contain fake fruit in order to masks the drugs.

A few years ago, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection noticed small speedboats traveling from Mexico used to smuggle drugs into the U.S. “From 2011 to 2016, border officials said there were 309 known attempts to smuggle drugs across the border using boats; officials said there was no way of knowing how many boats actually reach shore” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.). 

Border Patrol and other law enforcement agents have come across smugglers using an ultralight aircraft to drop off drugs. Drones have also been used. “Customs and Border Protection data showed that ultralight aircraft may have been used to transport drugs on 534 occasions from 2011 to 2016” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.). Less common methods used for drug smuggling include catapults and air compression guns. “In one case agents seized more than 30 cans filled with marijuana that had been launched by air guns” (Nixon, 2017, n.p.). 

Although smugglers have had to come up with more inventive ways to transport illegal substances, it seems that they have not yet completely abandoned old-fashioned forms such as “mules with backpacks” (Nixon, 2017).

For more information on this topic please read By Land, Sea or Catapult.”


Nixon, R. (2017, July 25). By Land, Sea or Catapult: How Smugglers Get Drugs Across the Border. Retrieved August 03, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/25/us/drugs-border-wall.html

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 8.000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn specialized information, get discounts on training, and network with professionals like you!
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.