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Drug trafficking


Drug trafficking

"Drug dealer" redirects here. For the legal drug trade, see Legal drug trade.

The illegal drug trade is a global black market, dedicated to cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and sale of drugs, which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Most jurisdictions prohibit trade, except under license, of many types of drugs by drug prohibition laws.

A UN report said "the global drug trade generated an estimated US$321.6 billion in 2003."[1] With a world GDP of US$36 trillion in the same year, the illegal drug trade may be estimated as nearly 1% of total global trade. Consumption of illegal drugs is widespread globally.


Chinese edicts against opium smoking were made in 1729, 1796 and 1800.[2] Addictive drugs were prohibited in the west in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[3][4][5]

An illegal drug trade emerged during the early 19th century; China retaliated by enforcing the ban on imports of opium, and two Opium Wars broke out. In the First Opium War (1839-1842), the Chinese authorities had banned opium, but the United Kingdom forced China to allow British merchants to trade opium with the general population. Smoking opium had become common in the 19th century, and British merchants increased their trade with the Chinese. Trading in opium was lucrative. As a result of this illegal trade, an estimated two million Chinese people became addicted to the drug. The British Crown (via the treaties of Nanking and Tianjin) took vast sums of money from the Chinese government through this illegal trade, which they referred to as "reparations".

In 1868, as the result of the increasing use of opium, the UK restricted the sale of opium in Britain via the 1868 Pharmacy Act .[6] In the United States, control remained a state responsibility until the introduction of the Harrison Act in 1914, following the passing of the International Opium Convention in 1912.

Between 1920 and 1933 alcohol was banned in the United States. This law was considered to have been very difficult to enforce and resulted in the growth of vast criminal organizations, including the modern American Mafia.[7][8]

Because drugs traded on the black market can provide a secretive source of money, they have long been used by organizations such as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to fund covert operations and proxy wars. CIA involvement in heroin trafficking began with the French Connection in Marseille and continued with anti-Communist operations in Southeast Asia.[9] In the early 1980s, the CIA used cocaine as a medium to launder money in Central America (allegedly as part of the Iran–Contra affair).[10]

The Australian Crime Commission's illicit drug data report for 2011–2012 was released in western Sydney on 20 May 2013 and revealed that the seizures of illegal substances in Australia during the reporting period were the largest in a decade due to record interceptions of amphetamines, cocaine and steroids.[11]

Legal penalties

In many countries, drug smuggling carries severe penalties. These include lengthy periods of incarceration, flogging, and even the death penalty (in Singapore, Malaysia, etc.). In December 2005, Van Tuong Nguyen, a 25 year old Australian drug smuggler was hanged in Singapore after being convicted in March 2004.[12] In 2010, two people were sentenced to death in Malaysia for trafficking 1 kilogram/2.2 pounds of cannabis into the country.[13]

Drug trafficking is widely regarded as the most serious of drug offences around the world. However, sentencing often depends on the type of drug (and its classification in the country into which it is being trafficked), the quantity trafficked, where the drugs are sold and how they are distributed; for example if the drugs are sold to underage people, then the penalties for trafficking may be harsher than in other circumstances.

Effects of illegal drug trade on societies

The countries of drug production and drug transit have been seen as some of the worst affected by prohibition though countries receiving the illegally-imported substances are also affected by problems stemming from drug prohibition. For example, Ecuador has absorbed up to 300,000 refugees from Colombia who are running from guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug lords. While some applied for asylum, others are still illegal. The drugs that pass from Colombia through Ecuador to other parts of South America create economic and social problems.[14]

Honduras, through which an estimated 79% of cocaine passes on its way to the United States,[15] has the highest murder rate in the world.[16]

Violent crime

In many countries worldwide, the illegal drug trade is thought to be directly linked to violent crimes such as murder; this is especially true in developing countries, such as Honduras, but is also an issue for many developed countries worldwide.[17][18]

In the late 1990s in the United States the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimated that 5% of murders were drug-related.[17]

After a crackdown by U.S. and Mexican authorities in the first decade of the 21st century as part of tightened border security in the wake of the September 11 attacks, border violence inside Mexico surged. The Mexican government estimates that 90% of the killings are drug-related.[19]

A report by the UK government's drug strategy unit that was subsequently leaked to the press, stated that due to the expensive price of highly addictive drugs heroin and cocaine, that drug use was responsible for the great majority of crime, including 85% for shoplifting, 70-80% of burglaries and 54% of robberies. "The cost of crime committed to support illegal cocaine and heroin habits amounts to £16 billion a year in the UK" (note: this is more than the entire annual UK Home Office budget).[20]


Due to its illicit nature, statistics about profits from the drug trade are largely unknown. In its 1997 World Drugs Report the UNODC estimated the value of the market at US$400 billion, ranking drugs alongside arms and oil amongst the world's largest traded goods.[21] An online report published by the UK Home Office in 2007 estimated the illicit drug market in the UK at £4–6.6 billion a year[22]

In December 2009, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, claimed that illegal drug money saved the banking industry from collapse. He claimed he had seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse during 2008. He said that a majority of the US$352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result. "In many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system's main problem and hence liquid capital became an important factor...Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities... There were signs that some banks were rescued that way". Costa declined to identify countries or banks that may have received any drug money, saying that would be inappropriate because his office is supposed to address the problem, not apportion blame.[23]

Illegal cocaine trade via West Africa

Cocaine produced in Colombia and Bolivia has been increasingly shipped via West Africa (especially in Cape Verde, Mali, Benin, Togo and Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Ghana[24]). The money is often laundered in countries as Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal.

Cargo planes are now also used as a method of transport from the production countries to West-Africa. Before this, the cocaine was only shipped to the USA. Because the market became saturated there, illicit drug traders decided to increase shipping to Europe. When these new drug routes were uncovered by the authorities, West Africa was chosen as a stop-over. In 2005, the first major cocaine shipment was intercepted by the police. In 2007, 30% of all cocaine shipped to the UK was estimated to come from West Africa. In 2009, 50% of all cocaine shipped to the UK was estimated to come from West Africa.

Drug mules, fishing boats, container ships, and submarines have been used to transship illegal drugs from West Africa to Europe.

Especially in Guinea-Bissau, the drugs have been traded with the help of political leaders such as former presidents, the son of dictator Lansana Conté, and chiefs of staff of the army.

According to the Africa Economic Institute, the value of illicit drug smuggling in Guinea-Bissau is almost twice the value of the country's GDP.[24] Policemen are often bribed. A policeman's normal monthly wage of 75 € is less than 2% of the value of 1 kilogram of cocaine (7000 €).

The money can also be laundered using real estate. A house is built using illegal funds, and when the house is sold, legal money is earned.[25]

When drugs are sent overland, through the Sahara, the drug traders have been increasingly forced to cooperate with terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaida in Islamic Maghreb.[26][27]

Main drug trafficking route in Asia

Asia is a continent in which a large amount of drug are being smuggled in to Europe. The main source of these drugs is Afghanistan. Farmers in Afghanistan produce drugs, and then these drugs are smuggled into the West and central Asia. Iran is a main route for smugglers. Chief of border police of Iran says that his country "is a strong barrier against the trafficking of illegal drugs to Caucasus, especially the Republic of Azerbaijan."[28]

Trade of specific drugs


Main article: Legality of cannabis

While the recreational use of (and consequently the distribution of) cannabis is illegal in most countries throughout the world, it is available by prescription or recommendation in many places, including Canada and some US states, with Washington state and Colorado being the two first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Importation and distribution is prohibited at the federal level.[29] Cannabis use is tolerated in some areas, most notably the Netherlands which has legalized the possession and licensed sale (but not production) of the drug. Many nations have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Due to the hardy nature of the Cannabis plant, marijuana is grown all across the world and is today the world's most popular illegal drug with the highest availability. Cannabis is grown legally in many countries for industrial, non-drug use (known as hemp) as well. Cannabis-Hemp may also be planted for other non-drug domestic purposes such as seasoning in Aceh.

The demand for cannabis around the world, coupled with the drug's relative ease of cultivation, makes the illicit cannabis trade one of the primary ways in which organized criminal groups finance many of their activities. In Mexico, for example, the illicit trafficking of cannabis is thought to constitute the majority of many of the cartels' earnings,[30] and thus the main way in which they (the cartels) finance many other illegal activities ranging from the purchase of other illegal drugs for trafficking and weapons that are ultimately used to commit murders (causing a burgeoning in the homicide rates of many areas of the world, but particularly Latin America).[31][32]


Main article: Alcohol

Alcohol, in the context of alcoholic beverages rather than denatured alcohol, is illegal in a number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and this has resulted in a thriving illegal trade in alcohol being commonplace.[33] The manufacture, sale, transportation, importation and exportation of alcoholic beverage were illegal in the United States during the time known as prohibition in the 1920s and early 1930s.


Main article: Heroin

Up until around 2004 the majority of the world's heroin was produced in an area known as the Golden Triangle (Southeast Asia).[34][page needed] However, by 2007, 93% of the opiates on the world market originated in Afghanistan.[35] This amounted to an export value of about US$64 billion, with a quarter being earned by opium farmers and the rest going to district officials, insurgents, warlords and drug traffickers.[36] Another significant area where poppy fields are grown for the manufacture of heroin is Mexico.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, the price of heroin is typically valued 8 to 10 times that of cocaine on American streets, making it a high-profit substance for smugglers and dealers.[37] In Europe (except the transit countries Portugal and the Netherlands), for example, a purported gram of street heroin, usually consisting of 700–800 mg of a light to dark brown powder containing 5-10% heroin base, costs between 30 and 70 euros, making the effective value per gram of pure heroin between 300 and 700 euros. Heroin is generally a preferred target for smuggling and distribution over unrefined opium due to the cost-effectiveness and increased efficacy of heroin.

Because of the high cost per volume, heroin is easily smuggled. A quarter-sized vial can contain hundreds of doses. From the 1930s to the early 1970s, the so-called French Connection supplied the majority of US demand. Allegedly, during the Vietnam War, drug lords such as Ike Atkinson used to smuggle hundreds of kilos of heroin to the U.S. in coffins of dead American soldiers (see Cadaver Connection). Since that time it has become more difficult for drugs to be imported into the United States than it had been in previous decades, but that does not stop the heroin smugglers from getting their product onto U.S. soil. Purity levels vary greatly by region with, for the most part, Northeastern cities having the most pure heroin in the United States.

Penalties for smuggling heroin and/or morphine are often harsh in most countries. Some countries will readily hand down a death sentence (e.g. Singapore) or life in prison for the illegal smuggling of heroin or morphine, which are both, internationally, Schedule I drugs under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.


Main article: Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is another popular drug among distributors. Three common street names are "crystal meth", "meth", and "ice".[38]

According to the Community Epidemiology Work Group, the numbers of clandestine methamphetamine laboratory incidents reported to the National Clandestine Laboratory Database decreased from 1999 to 2009. During this same period, methamphetamine lab incidents increased in midwestern States (Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio), and in Pennsylvania. In 2004, more lab incidents were reported in Missouri (2,788) and Illinois (1,058) than in California (764). In 2003, methamphetamine lab incidents reached new highs in Georgia (250), Minnesota (309), and Texas (677). There were only seven methamphetamine lab incidents reported in Hawaii in 2004, though nearly 59 percent of substance abuse treatment admissions (excluding alcohol) were for primary methamphetamine abuse during the first six months of 2004. As of 2007, Missouri leads the United States in clandestine lab seizures, with 1,268 incidents reported.[39] Often canine units are used for detecting rolling meth labs which can be concealed on large vehicles, or transported on something as small as a motorcycle. These labs are more difficult to detect than stationary ones, and can often be obscured with the legal cargo on big trucks.[40]

Methamphetamine is sometimes used in an injectable form, placing users and their partners at risk for transmission of HIV and hepatitis C.[41] "Meth" can also be inhaled, most commonly vaporized on aluminum foil, or through a test tube or light bulb fashioned into a pipe. This method is reported to give "an unnatural high" and a "brief intense rush".[42]

In South Africa methamphetamine is called "tik" or "tik-tik". Children as young as eight are abusing the substance, smoking it in crude glass vials made from light bulbs. Since methamphetamine is easy to produce, the substance is manufactured locally in staggering quantities.

The government of North Korea currently operates methamphetamine production facilities. There, the drug is used as medicine since no others are available; it also is smuggled across its border with China.[43]

The Australian Crime Commission's illicit drug data report for 2011–2012 stated that the average strength of crystal methamphetamine doubled in most Australian jurisdictions within a 12-month period and the majority of domestic laboratory closures involved small "addict-based" operations.[11]


Main article: Temazepam

Temazepam, a strong hypnotic benzodiazepine, is illicitly manufactured in clandestine laboratories (called jellie labs) to supply the increasingly high demand for the hypnotic drug internationally.[44] Many clandestine temazepam labs are in Eastern Europe. The way in which they manufacture the temazepam is through chemical alteration of diazepam, oxazepam or lorazepam.[45] Clandestine "jellie labs" have been identified and shutdown in Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, Latvia and Belarus.[46]

In the United Kingdom, temazepam is the most widely-abused legal, prescription drug. It's also the most commonly abused benzodiazepine in Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Russia, People's Republic of China, New Zealand, Australia and some parts of Southeast Asia. In Sweden it has been banned due to a problem with drug abuse issues and a high rate of death caused by temazepam alone relative to other drugs of its group. Surveys in many countries show that temazepam, MDMA, nimetazepam, and methamphetamine rank among the top illegal drugs most frequently abused.[47][48][49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57]

Western Hemisphere


Political Corruption


In 1929, The PRI (The Institutional Revolutionary Party) was formed to help resolve the chaos resulting from the Mexican Revolution. Over time, this party gained political influence. It also had a major impact on Mexico’s social and economic policies.[58] The PRI created ties with various groups to gain influence. This resulted in corruption in the government. One of these alliances was with drug traffickers.

By the 1940s, the tie between the drug cartels and the PRI had solidified. This arrangement created immunity for the leaders of the drug cartels. It allowed drug trafficking to flourish under the protection of the government officials. When political chaos erupted once more, drug cartels used their influence to gain more power. Instead of creating agreements with government officials, drug cartels used force and intimidation to operate.[58] Political corruption obscured justice, making it difficult to identify violence when it related to drugs.[59]

Many states in Mexico lack policies that establish stability in governance. For instance, since mayors cannot be re-elected, leadership at the local level is subject to change. This, in turn, impacts organization at all levels of government, such as that of law enforcement. Drug gangs have manipulated the ensuing vacuum in local leadership to their own advantage.[60]


Despite the actions of UN and US agencies against drug trafficking in the 1950s and 1960s, illegal drug cartels were able to thrive. Not only did the political instability and corruption seen in one country affect the activity of cartels in an individual country, but it also affects the activity in different countries as well. For example, the activity of cartels in Colombia rose during Nixon’s presidency when, as a result of U.S. anticommunist intervention during the 70s, Chilean ruler Pinochet sought to jail or expel anyone involved in cocaine trafficking. As a result, Chilean drug trade activists decentralized and spread to Chile’s northern border where trade wasn’t as well-regulated, which in turn helped to stimulate the activity of cartels in Colombia. Additionally, in 1969, Nixon initiated his “war against drugs” campaign towards marijuana and heroin use in the United States. Consequently, the decrease in trade of these drugs gave way for the rise in cocaine trade.[61]



In the 1980s, the United States instated stricter policy pertaining to drug transit through sea and as a result, there was an influx in drug-trafficking across the Mexican-U.S. border, which increased the drug cartel activity in Mexico.[58] Visible shifts occurred in the drug market in the United States. By the early 1990s, so much as 50 percent of the cocaine available on the United States market originated from Mexico, and by the 2000s, over 90 percent of the cocaine in the United States was imported from Mexico.[58]

“The Merida Initiative, launched in April 2008, is a 10-fold increase in U.S. security assistance to a proposed $1.4 billion over several years, supplying Mexican forces with high-end equipment from helicopters to surveillance technology,”.[60] However, despite U.S. aid, Mexican “narcogangs” continue to outnumber and outgun the Mexican Army, which in turn has had great influence on surrounding cities. As a result, for example, Phoenix, AZ has recently emerged as a primary border town for the transport of illegal drugs into the United States. For instance, drug-smuggling related kidnapping has increased from 96 to 366 in 2008.[60]

South America

After World War II, UN agencies such as the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the UN-influenced, but independent International Narcotics Control Board, and the United States Federal Bureau of Narcotics sought to eliminate drug trade (including cocaine) from South American suppliers such as Peru by 1948 and Bolivia by 1961.[61]

The Caribbean

The 1959 Cuban revolution initiated the formation of “the first professional international cocaine-trafficking class,” which in turn helped to spread the trade of cocaine despite actions of UN agencies.[61]




In Michoacán, the set culture of the society created opportunities for drug cartels to foster. Michoacán was mainly an agricultural society, and therefore provided the means for people to grow drugs. Once the towns started to become industrialized, the drug cartels started to expand. Industrialization of the rural sides of Mexico allowed for easier and greater distribution of drugs, expanding the drug market into different provinces.[59]

The flourish of drug cartels was largely due to the ranchero culture that was intact in Michoacán. The Ranchero culture was based on valuing the individual as opposed to the society as a whole.[59] This culture fostered the drug culture that is based on valuing the family that is within the drug cartel. Due to this, the drug cartel developed along with the culture and became an integral part of the people’s lives.

Sinaloa, a Mexican state bordering the Pacific coast has developed a major “narcoculture” in recent years, joining the turbulent states of “Acapulco, Monterrey, Tijuana, Juarez, and Nogales” with regards to prevalence of gang activity and violence.[60]

United States

In the United States, drugs are a part of a leisure pastime. Though drugs are illegal, they are integrated into the culture in a way that drugs are seen as a recreational activity.[62] Drugs are seen as a high in demand commodity, since they have a high cost and the government does not have any control over supply of the drug.[62]

Throughout the 20th century, illegal substances other than cocaine also crossed the Mexican border, meeting the U.S. demand of “alcohol during 1920s Prohibition, opiates in the 1940s, marijuana in the 1960s, and heroin in the 1970s,”.[61]

Harm Reduction Policies

Harm reduction policies related to IDU (intravaneous drug use) dates back to the late 1970s/early 1980s.[63] Though harm reduction was initially rejected by the public, it became institutionalized within the public health community.[63] Harm reduction became popular in response to HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis B in the 1970s/1980s. Although initially repressed, harm reduction movements began informally by those suffering from needle-related health conditions.[63] In the 1980s and 90s, public health funding caused the public’s view toward drug use to be shifted from that of criminal justice to one of public health. Ethnography became more popular once intravenous needle use was a known form of HIV drug use transmission.[63] Drug worlds brought a level of deviance to drug use. Popular idea that drug abuser was “escapist” was undermined by Taking Care of Business- 1969, This demonstrated the difficulty of maintain heroin habit.[63]

Harm reduction began at a grassroots level with a combination of public health research, outreach, and, education.[63]

Female involvement in Drug Cartels


Female involvement is an integral part of the drug culture. In the drug culture, though females were not treated as equal to males, they did have more power than their culture allowed. This increase in power is what attracts females from higher class. Though they do not achieve as much power as males do, they acquire some independence.[64] Another reason why many women get involved in the drug business is due to economic reasons. A lot of the women in the lower levels of the drug cartels either come from poverty, or are on the verge of poverty. Drug trafficking offers women a way to earn income.[64] Females from all classes get forced into the drug cartels by their environment. Both social and economic reasons cause females to turn to drug trafficking as their only options.



The U.S./Mexican drug war has had a significant influence on the economies of both countries. For example, the amount of estimated annual cocaine exports from Latin America into the U.S. has grown 100x since the start of the 20th century to more than 1000 metric tons in the turn of the century.[61] The economic impact of this development can be seen in the 90% of the cocaine imported into the United States came through the Mexican border, where border traffickers profited an approximated $23 billion.[61] This translates to an estimated range of $10-30 billion in national revenue from Mexican drug-exporting business during the mid-1990s.[61]

Trade Openness

There are several arguments on whether or not trade openness has a correlation to an increased activity in the illicit drug trade. Currently, the structure and operation of the illicit drug industry is described mainly in terms of an international division of labor, more particularly a narcotic internal division of labor.[65] This international division of labor can be divided by geography in terms of countries being the drug industry’s principal consumers, producers, or transit centers. In regard’s to a country’s niche, trade openness will have different effects on states’ ability to combat the drug trade.[65] Through trade openness will enhance the drug interdiction capabilities of states in drug producing countries, it will weaken the interdiction efforts of states in drug-consuming countries.[65] Countries serving as transit centers for drug smugglers see that trade openness will have a limited effect on the drug interdiction capabilities of these states. Three competing propositions that center around trade openness are that[65] :

1. Trade openness undermines the drug interdiction capabilities of states 2. Trade openness enhances the drug interdiction capabilities of states 3. Trade openness doesn’t necessarily affect the drug interdiction capabilities of states

In terms of undermining these capabilities, trade openness increases the sheer volume of legal cross-border trade and provides cover for drug smuggling by providing ample opportunity to conceal illicit cargo in licit trade. As trade openness continues to expand the volume of legal trade, states’ ability to detect and interdict drug trafficking is severely diminished. Towards the late 1990s, the top ten seaports in the world processed 33.6 million containers.[65] Trade openness has fostered integration of financial markets and has provided drug traffickers with more opportunities to launder money and invest in other activities, further strengthening hte drug industry while weakening the efforts of law enforcement to monitor the flow of drug money into the legitimate economy. Drug traffickers have developed more sophisticated techniques of laundering drug proceeds through the legal economy (laundered through the stock market, Internet banking and Internet casino, insurance and real estate industries, credit and debit card schemes, currency markets, the entertainment industry, diamond and gold industries, and hotel and rental car industries.Trade openness has displacement on country’s workforce (people who are facing unemployment are more likely to turn to the drug industry for means of employment, thereby strengthening the industry with recruits).[65] Trade openness reforms (Lome Trade Accords of 1975) which was designed to benefit the commodity exports of African, Carribbean, and Pacific countries, have significally reduced the income of producers in developing countries (drug industry open for recruits).[65] By fostering expansion of trade and global transportation networks, trade openness encourages cooperation and formation of alliances among criminal organizations across different countries. Cooperation expands power and reach of cartels to distant markets and thereby strengthens their abilities to evade detection by local law enforcement.[65] Criminal organizations work together to coordinate their money-laundering activities by having different criminal organizations handle specific stages of laundering process.[65] One organization structures the process through which financial transactions will be laundered, while another criminal group provides the “dirty” money to be cleaned.[65] In terms of enhancing these capabilities, these financial gains from trade will reduce the incentive to participate in the drug industry.[65] Trade openness can open new markets to domestic producers who would otherwise resort to exporting illicit drugs.Trade openness will increase revenues to states via an influx of foreign direct investment this can be used to improve the overall drug enforcement capabilities of states. Also can be used to improve the training and intelligence-gathering operations of drug enforcement personnel.[65] Increased revenue leads to increased wages which has been seen to lead to less corruption among individual. Extensive trade openness among states can encourage greater cross-border drug enforcement. coordination between law enforcement agencies in different countries. An example of this can be seen through NAFTA which has lead to increased anti-narcotic cooperation between U.S and Mexico.[65]

See also

International coordination:


External links

  • UNODC – United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – World Drug Campaign
  • Council on Foreign Relations
  • Illicit drug issues by country, by the CIA
  • United Summaries of EU legislation: Combating drugs
  • LANIC Drug Production, Consumption, and Trafficking page
  • The illicit drug trade in the United Kingdom – 2007 Home Office report
  • Global Drug Trade Market Data at Havocscope Black Markets
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