3 Tips to Create A Believable Drug Smuggling Scene
So, you want to write a drug smuggling scene, but not sure where to start or how to make your character believable? Here are a few quick tips to get you started.
1. The Character:
What does a typical smuggler look like? There’s no stereotypical character description. The smuggler (the “mule”) may be young or old, male or female, or from a wide variety of backgrounds. Pregnant women and children have increasingly been used to smuggle drugs. The Covid pandemic, with restricted borders and job losses, created a shift in the kinds of mules recruited by drug cartels. For example:
- US college students on spring break are being offered cash to sneak drugs back into American.
- Ads offer to pay people to drive vehicles from Mexico to the US, ostensibly to a car purchaser. In reality, and unbeknownst to the driver, the vehicles are loaded with illicit drug stashes packed in hidden compartments.
2. The Smuggling Method:
As a writer, you have a lot of artistic license to decide how your character gets (or attempts to get!) the illicit drugs to a destination. Smugglers use many creative ways to hide drugs. Some real-life examples include:
- Body packers
- Here, your “mule” will hide drugs anywhere they can go inside their body. This can include swallowing hundreds of drug filled little packets or hiding those packets in body cavities. The packets are often flimsy, made of condoms wrapped in saran wrap, duct tape, or coated in wax.
- If you character is swallowing all those packets, it will be a challenge, but drinking a numbing solution, along with an oily liquid, will help make the packets slide down the throat easier. Realistically, your character will also need to take antidiarrheal medicine to keep all those packets inside until reaching the destination, then another medicine to cause his gut to move the packets out.
- If your character is a “stuffer,” then those packets will get tucked into various body cavities, hoping they don’t fall out along the journey.
- Hidden in food or drinks:
As I said, smugglers get very creative. Illicit drugs have been transported in stacks tortillas, tucked into a hole drilled through the middle. Drugs have been dissolved in cases of drinks, like iced tea, then reconstituted into powder drug once the shipment gets to the destination
- Hidden in vehicles:
- All kinds of hidden compartments have been located in vehicles used by drug smugglers, from inside the wheels to fake compartments under the flooring, and everywhere in-between.
3. Building Tension in a Smuggling Scene
No smuggling scene would be complete without suspense—the risk of getting caught is a great page-turner. So, what kind of trouble can your character get into?
- Body packers:
- Those little swallowed packets are not the sturdiest. They can tear, leaking drug. When that packet is inside a human, even one single broken packet can leak a lethal dose. Symptoms of a drug overdose will quickly overwhelm the character. Without emergency aid, this is your character’s last scene.
- The little baggies can also get lodged anywhere along the character’s throat or intestines, creating a life-threatening blockage. Emergency surgery is needed to get the packets out. Consider a critique partner with a medical background to help smooth out he believability of an emergency surgery scene.
- If your character is apprehended and x-rayed, all those little swallowed packets will look like a long tube of little white sausage links throughout the gut. To see actual x-rays of swallowed drug packets, click here.
- Those drug packets can fall out of their hiding place, forcing the smuggler to find a way to quickly re-hide them. Those fragile packets can get a tear during the re-hiding process, spilling out a lethal dose of drug.
- Drug Sniffing K-9’s:
- K-9’s have helped find their share of hidden drugs in vehicles, on people, etc. Consider a critique partner with expertise in drug sniffing dogs. Interviewing an officer in this field may also be an option.
I hope this has helped give you ideas for writing your smuggling scene. These tips are just a few of those you’ll find in my upcoming non-fiction handbook for putting character in peril with believable drug scenes.
In the meantime, here are links to other articles you may find helpful for writing authentic drug scenes:
- Plotting drug scenes: lethal traps to avoid
- Writing realistic drug scenes
- The link between Emojis and illicit drug buys
- Fentanyl 101 for authors and parents
Good ideas. There was a movie a decade or so ago titled “Maria, Full of Grace” that was about a teenage drug smuggler from Columbia that showed bringing in drugs by swallowing. Eyeopening! I once was in a line at customs coming back from Central America. An attractive woman, I would guess around 30, was two or three people ahead. The custom dogs went crazy over her luggage and she was led away. You could see the fear in her eyes, but I have no idea what happened to her.
Hi Jeff- I’ll have to watch that movie to see how it was depicted on screen. I always love to see how screenwriters treat these topics. And yes- the first time I saw one of the X-rays of the drug baggies inside a person, I was horrified. As a pharmacist, my mind goes right to the lethal potential. The risk taken is crazy and desperate. And wow- to be that close to a K9 drug bust must have been impressive (and a bit unsettling) to watch in action. Thanks for dropping by the post.
Soo glad I found you! This story has taken me years bc I’m idk how drug trafficking works.
My MC was a student whose uni went on a teachers strike right before his final exams to graduate. So he tried legit work (didn’t “work” lol), so he began helping Nigerian friends in the US to smuggle heroin from Afghanistan through Nigeria into New Jersey. He earned so much money he forgot about returning to uni when the strike ended.
So these are the only ways people smuggle heroin? Packing or swallowing? I wanted to convey that my MC, in working with his “friends” is higher on the food chain, so I thoughthe’d do smthg different wrt smuggling.
As you can see, I know nothing. Been thinking of switching to something easier like romance lol
Hi! Glad this has been helpful. Other than the physical body hiding places, there are the other avenues I mentioned: hiding in vehicles (which could be extrapolated to luggage), hidden in foods (like the pockets cut into tortilla stacks), or diluted into liquid shipments.
Between drug sniffing dogs and the impracticality of the liquid shipments to fly into the US, those may not be realistic. (Especially with going through customs and international baggage checks). However- since you are wanting your character to have ‘moved up the ranks,’ consider that he would have moved from a personal smuggler to recruiting and overseeing other smugglers. He might entice recruits by offering free travel to the US (and he may have access to passports or visas- or maybe that connection gets him deeper in risk (what a great plot twist!). He might oversee his recruits swallowing/hiding the drug packets, follow them through security, fly on the same plane, and yet he takes little risk and gets the $. You can put him in character testing predicaments- what does he do if on of his recruited mules gets caught? Or starts showing overdose symptoms on the flight? Does he let them die? Get caught? Disavow them? If thry make it to the US, he has to get them to the destination, get back the drugs, give them their fee, etc.
I hope these thoughts have given you ideas, even if they aren’t quite the direction you head in the end.
If you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll know when New posts are up that might also help.
Good luck with the story!