Drug trafficking, also known as drug distribution, is the crime of selling, transporting, or illegally importing unlawful controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine, marijuana, or other illegal drugs.

Characteristics of drug distributors vary from place to place and changes over time. However, having some basic understanding of the characteristics or behaviors of drug distributors could help establishing counter-measures and protect the welfare of individuals and communities.


Drug trafficking can be a complex activity with no easily defined structures and behaviors. However, there are seven major characteristics that can be used to define the structure and behavior of drug traffickers. These are communication, organisation, movement, environment, transactions, security, and motivation. The first six characteristics are adopted from a model by John Eck and Jeffrey Gersh in their article “Drug Trafficking as a Cottage Industry” (2000) describing drug-trafficking behaviors.

(a) Communication refers to how information is exchanged among drug suppliers, drug users and drug traffickers. This includes pagers, face-to-face, landlines, cellphone, middle-men, postal mail, e-mail, and computers. Some of the communication devices are sophisticated and used to prevent law enforcement interception of communication between traffickers. A scrambler, for example, attaches to an ordinary radio, and “scrambles” the normal radio frequency with a number of different codes. Only someone with a receiver coded to the particular scrambler frequency can decipher the transmitted message; the transmission is unintelligible to all other receivers. Digital encryption devices are used to send messages in code, and are often secured so that they can be accessed only after a security number is punched directly into the device.

(b) Organization refers to the relationship, grouping and operational hierarchy of drug traffickers. The drug traders could be independent individuals, loose knit groups or highly organized criminal organizations.

(c) Movements includes the transportation of drugs from one location to another and the quantities of drugs. This may involve using private vehicles, commercial airlines, private airplanes, private boats, public transportation, rail, people and animals.

(d) Environment refers to places or locations where drug trafficking occurs. This could at a house, apartments, entertainment places, commercial places, public areas, lodges, abandoned buildings and vehicles.

(e) Transactions includes how drugs are packaged, priced and disguised. Drugs may be sold openly or secretly.

(f) Security includes the protection drug traffickers put around them to ensure they operate freely. Drug traffickers seeks security to protect themselves from other offenders and protection from law enforcement. They will use threats of retaliation, intimidation, surveillance of approaches (lookouts), armed guards, identification checks and screening.

(g) Motivation is basically the reason for continued existence. Some traffickers are purely involved to make a living and for survival. Others use it to make large profits and to fund other unscrupulous activities.