Summary of the series

Drug trafficking was invented by one state: the United Kingdom. In the 19th century, the British Crown flooded China with opium to replenish its coffers. From the outset, opium, heroin and cocaine became political instruments in the hands of states. Major powers, pharmaceutical industries, banks, secret services: all have played a role in the spread of drugs and the emergence of the largest criminal organizations. From the opium wars to the birth of the French Connection, from the hippy years to the rise of the great drug barons, from Escobar to El Chapo, from the Afghan mountains to Wall Street, a political history of drugs is taking shape. A historical and worldwide investigation in three episodes.

Episode 1 – The Age of Empires

Drug trafficking was not invented by a mafia but by the European colonial powers in the 19th century. While they were spreading opium throughout Asia, the pharmaceutical industry discovered miraculous products: morphine, cocaine, heroin. Addiction becomes a worldwide scourge. When prohibition was imposed at the beginning of the 20th century, the first networks were set up in Mexico, France and China… These networks experienced unprecedented growth during the Cold War: in the hands of the secret services, drugs became a geopolitical instrument. The United States paid the price: in 1970, a third of American soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin. A year later, in a historic speech, President Richard Nixon launches the war on drugs.

Episode 2 – Time for the Barons

The first world power goes to war against drugs: the United States strikes hard. But the drug trade never dies. It moves, transforms, adapts. As the war on drugs progresses around the world, a new generation of traffickers emerges in the late 1970s, more powerful than ever. These criminals are not only greedy for money, but also for power. If Pablo Escobar is the most emblematic of them all, Toto Riina in Sicily, Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle, Felix Gallardo in Mexico, have turned their countries’ destiny upside down and exploded the drug trade worldwide. They defy the States, threaten the powers that be. It will take almost 20 years for states to organize themselves and develop strategies to bring down the drug lords.

Episode 3 – The Lost Territories

The traffic was split up, nuked by police beatings. Today’s traffickers have mutated. Invisibility is their weapon. Trafficking is taking root in areas that are out of control: war zones, like Afghanistan or Colombia. In Mexico, the cartels have drawn the whole country into an unspeakable spiral of violence, and everywhere the balance sheet of the war on drugs is a grim tally. Synthetic drugs, which are easy to manufacture and conceal, herald the fourth generation to come: traffickers in white coats.

Written and directed by
Julie Lerat and Christophe Bouquet
Produced by
YAMI 2 – Christophe Nick
3×52 min
Broadcasted on
Broadcasted in