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Internal concealment of drugs of abuse (body packing)

Robert S Hoffman, MD
Section Editor
Stephen J Traub, MD
Deputy Editor
Jonathan Grayzel, MD, FAAEM


“Body packers” are persons who, voluntarily or through coercion, swallow, or insert drug-filled packets into a body cavity, generally in an attempt to smuggle them across secure borders. Body packing was first described in the medical literature in 1973 [1-3]; however, anecdotal reports suggest the practice was utilized by drug traffickers at least a decade prior to recognition. Body stuffing, which involves ingestion of drugs to avoid imminent apprehension by authorities, is a separate but related practice that can lead to acute life-threatening toxicity [4-6].

When body packers present to health care providers, it is typically for one (or more) of the following reasons [7]:

The patient (“body packer”) is asymptomatic but is in the custody of authorities. There is a need for medical evaluation and monitoring.

The patient has signs of systemic drug toxicity from a ruptured packet.

The patient has developed symptoms of gastrointestinal obstruction or perforation.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: May 02, 2017.
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