In western society opium has two main uses. These are medicinal and in the criminal justice system of the illegal drug trade. The harms and abuses cut across all ages and socioeconomic groups. Opium and its derivatives called opiods are produced from the poppy plant. These been used to control pain in the medicinal world and used for other purposes in an illegal use. These two uses has led to opium becoming a valuable commodity in global markets and this essay will look at how this market can be used to interpret what constitutes crime and justice. Local and global markets within the opium trade has resulted in violence amongst individuals and state sponsored markets in the form of war and both personal and social harms. (The Open University, 2009(a)). To try and understand this you have to distinguish the connection if any between illegal and legal drug use.

Individuals, communities and ethnic groups in history and to date have been the focus for examination and treatment by justice systems whereas compared to large corporations and governments have been able to remain unaccountable for their actions.

In the 1700’s Britain was importing opium into China from its colonies in India. The numbers of opium users and addiction was increasing rapidly and had become so vast that the Chinese emperor banned its import but despite the prohibition and Britain finding it unfair and against free trade principles, continued to supply. This continuation resulted in the opium wars forcing China to allow the importation of opium. . (The Open University, 2009(b)). Many decades on the British government, with Tony Blair as prime minister, used the Chinese emperor’s previous views to validate the military action in Afghanistan and to destroy of Afghanistan opium crops. The British government was responsible for harming another nation but was not seen as the action being illegal and was justified as being in the nation’s best interest and not as a criminal action. (The Open University, 2009(b)). Throughout our history the link between drugs and war is apparent and this link was used in the early 1970s by the government of America to bring about a campaign against groups that posed a threat to the administration. In 1971 President Richard Nixon declared a nationwide “war on drugs” within the USA. (Cole, The Open University,

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2009(c)). One consequence of this ‘war on drugs’ was the creation of an environment that caused deeper and more violent criminal behaviours regarding the use and supply of illegal

drugs. (Simon, The Open University, 2009, (c)). Another consequence of this war was that crimes involving drugs were now associated largely with anti-social, urban and low income groups compared to the more affluent and more influential classes which created different tier structures of the treatment of these different classes regarding drug use. (Open University, 2009 (c)). With the opium trade being one of the largest global businesses, attracting criminal activity and organisations is inevitable but this also leads to governments and law enforcement agencies spending unimaginable amounts of money tackling the problem. The most profitable sector of the global market is the process of transporting the drugs internationally and the finances this raises funds these criminal activities.

The difference between the illegal drug trade and the legal drug trade is between the treatments they receive by the international justice system. (Open University, 2009(b)).

The pharmaceutical industry which is a million dollar and pound industry allows legal opium production using international drug treaties and supervision in controlling quotas and production. They market the drugs to doctors, hospitals and patients persuading them all that the drug is a necessary commodity. The lobbying involved and advertising helps with this and also the addictiveness qualities keeps patients returning for more.

In 2007 the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company Purdue Pharma was fined

$600million after being found guilty of misleading consumers into believing that their Oxy Contin, one of their products, was less addictive than other similar opiods that were available. This misrepresentation resulted in an increase in addictions to the drug and also several deaths of the drug users. No convictions or criminal action was bought against any individuals within the company. The fine was not of any great financial consequence when you consider the profits this company makes. As a result of The Prescription Drug User Fee Act of 1992 the Food and Drug Administration has been funded in part by the pharmaceutical industry, thereby allowing its independence to be questioned. This is an example of how large corporations are apparently untouchable to justice but also that through legislation they are often responsible for their own regulations and avoid being held fully accountable for their actions and this could increase the likelihood of corruption taking place within the industry. If this was the same situation with illegal drugs production, criminal prosecution and possible prison sentences of the individuals would have happened. This once again shows how corruption can influence outcomes in the global drugs markets. (The Open University, 2009(b)).

Some countries have used their influence on multinational companies, who synthesise opiods and governments of countries who produce opiods like India and Turkey. This has contributed to the destruction of the Afghanistan opium crops by not allowing it to be incorporated into the global market. This is mainly because they worry it would force the market price of opium down then in turn lowering profits. This it forces the local farmers to deal in the illegal markets thus justifying the crops destruction. (Callahan, The Open University, 2009(c)). The confrontations and violence this caused harmed local farmers physically and also by depriving them of their only source of income. Tajikistan in Asia has become part of the drugs global and local network and a major transit country bound for Russia and some western European markets. This transition between unregulated places and has implications on the people of Tajikistan.

It is estimated that Tajikistan authorities seize more illegal shipments than all the other Asian counties together. (Jacobsen, The Open University, 2009(c)). Looking at Tajikistan’s connection with illegal drug use and distribution, it can be seen that globalisation through trade and cultural exchange has affect both on legal and illegal drug use. The high and increasing levels of unemployment and poverty in Tajikistan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, their status of being a transit country for drug trafficking has been seen as a profitable alternative to regular income. Tajikistan’s involvement in international illegal drug

trafficking has had a marked affect and an increased use in drugs within the country itself and that it has also changed the manner in which drugs have been consumed. It is no longer popular to have opium in tea or just to be smoked like it was traditionally used. It has been replaced by increased levels of stronger drugs such as heroin. (Khidirov, The Open University, 2009(a)). Tajikistan connections is a prime example for understanding that illegal trafficking in drugs is a large scale global industry and that it is facilitated by bribery and corruption at all levels of society and within governments and law enforcement agencies like state controlled border guards and their commanding officers. (The Open University, 2009(b)).

In conclusion looking into both legal and illegal opiate markets it has enabled me to look into the effects of crime as the result of imbalances in power within societies that could through related violence and harm quite possibly lead to the destruction of these societies. Harm and violence has been demonstrated by showing aspects of crime from the Chinese Opium Wars to the destruction of communities in Tajikistan and

Afghanistan. It has been shown that where trade opens markets the illegal drug trade soon follows. By comparing legal production and distribution of drugs by multinational pharmaceutical companies and illegal drug production and distribution by drug cartels, it can be seen that the processes are similar in a number of ways. They both want to promote their products, they both want to sell their product and they both want repeat customers which can be through the drugs addictive qualities.

As a consequence to this crime must also be seen more readily as a global

unit and by looking at the examples shown it is clear to see the influence that illegal and legal drugs and its use affects people globally through markets making profits and the production can be seen as a crime if conducted illegal but not if conducted legally.


The Open University (2009a) ‘Film 1: Use, culture and addiction’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.5 (Accessed 8 October 2012)

The Open University (2009b) ‘Film 2: Production and distribution’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6 (Accessed 8 October 2012).

The Open University (2009c) ‘Film 3: Control and regulation’ [Video clip], DD301Crime and Justice. Available at mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6 (Accessed 8 October 2012).

The Open University (2009d) ‘Film 4: Reflections’ distribution’ [Video clip], DD301 Crime and Justice. Available at mod/ oucontent/ view.php?id=143279&section=1.6 (Accessed 8 October 2012).


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