The Story of Drug Trafficking

Written and directed by Julie Lerat and Christophe Bouquet

How, for two centuries, the powers that be allowed the drug trade to grow and flourish, the hidden side of free trade. This dense and clear fresco shatters preconceived ideas by demonstrating the impasse of prohibition.


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: they all 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 mountains of Afghanistan to Wall Street, a political history of drugs takes 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 was discovering miraculous products: morphine, cocaine and heroin. Addiction became a worldwide scourge. When prohibition came into force at the beginning of the 20th century, the first drug networks sprang 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 tool. 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 launched the war on drugs.

Episode 2 - Time for the Barons

The world's leading power is waging war on drugs: the United States strikes hard. But drug trafficking never dies. It moves, changes and adapts. As the war on drugs progressed around the world, a new generation of drug traffickers emerged at the end of the 1970s, more powerful than ever. These criminals were 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 and Félix Gallardo in Mexico had turned their countries’ destiny upside down and caused drug trafficking to explode on a global scale. They defied governments and threatened the powers that be. It would take almost 20 years for governments to get organized and develop strategies to bring down the drug barons.

Episode 3 - 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 such as Afghanistan and Colombia. In Mexico, the cartels have plunged the entire country into an unspeakable spiral of violence, and everywhere, the toll of the war on drugs is a macabre tally. Synthetic drugs, which are easy to manufacture and conceal, herald the fourth generation to come: traffickers in white coats.

Direction :
Julie Lerat and Christophe Bouquet
Writing :
Julie Lerat and Christophe Bouquet
Production :
YAMI 2 - Christophe Nick
Broadcast :
Year of broadcast :
Duration :
3×52 min

Selected at the Realscreen Awards in the category of non-fiction - archive-based program

This fascinating investigation traces the birth of drug trafficking, born of the greed of the British Empire - Le Monde

Staggering truths. "The Story of Drug Trafficking" reveals the untold connections of a long-standing narco-business. An addictive documentary! - Paris Match

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