Drug smuggling might sound like the stuff of high-octane action movies that revolve around a renegade cop’s attempts to put an end to a ruthless drug cartel’s reign of terror, so far removed from your life that it’s not even worth giving a second thought to, but the effects of drug trafficking can be felt much closer to home than you might think.

A recent cautionary tale ignited the public’s awareness to the fact that even the most unassuming British travellers can end up involved in drug smuggling. This saw the imprisonment of the then 20-year-old Michaella McCollum Connolly and Melissa Reid, from Northern Ireland and Scotland, respectively, for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth £1.5 million from Peru to Spain.

Not how anyone wants a holiday to end.

Their experience awoke the public to the unfortunate reality that people of that age range are vulnerable to the appeal and easy-money riches of smuggling drugs from country to country. Students tend to be around a similar age, which is why it is important to get the message about the pitfalls of being involved with drugs abroad to students.

In an era where this is a particularly pressing concern, as evidenced by the fact that one of the most successful recent TV shows imported from the US, and any Netflix-obsessed students favourite, Orange is the New Black focuses on the repercussions of the illegal drug smuggling trade on a former mule, it is important to recognise how to avoid similar situations.

An image most student slackers are likely to be familiar with.

An image most student slackers are likely to be familiar with.

Despite being easy to write off as just an exaggerated storyline to entertain the public, the show is actually based on a true story which only compounds the fact that these things do happen and they do catch up with you!

With not only the headlines but also the realm of entertainment focusing on the topic of drug smuggling, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Prisoners Abroad have set out to ensure that you don’t end up in the same situation as the Peru Two or Piper Chapman.

Their “Mules are Fools – Don’t be an Ass” campaign, launched last November, aims to educate younger travellers and opportunist drug smugglers about the repercussions of the use, possession and smuggling of drugs in countries around the world.

Ultimately, you wouldn’t want to end the holiday of a lifetime in a foreign prison where no-one speaks your language and the conditions are considerably worse than those expected in British prisons.

Their advice is perhaps best summed up by the Minister of Consular Affairs at the time of launch, James Duddridge: “When it comes to drugs our message is clear – don’t take risks, it is never worth it. You only have one life so don’t waste it.  The consequences can be devastating for both you and your family and so it is important to be familiar with the local laws.  Penalties and sentences vary considerably around the world and the FCO cannot interfere in another country’s legal system. So stay safe and do not break the law”.

Information about the penalties for drug smuggling around the world:

Country Laws
Thailand Possession of even very small quantities of drugs can lead to imprisonment. If you are found guilty of being in possession of a small quantity of marijuana you are risking a prison sentence and a heavy fine. If you are found guilty of being in possession of in excess of 20 grams of a Class A drug you would be deemed as a trafficker and could potentially be sentenced to death.
United Arab Emirates Sentences for drug trafficking for possession of even the smallest amount of illegal drugs can lead to a minimum 4-year jail sentence. The Emirati authorities count the presence of drugs in the blood stream as possession.
Peru More than 30 British nationals are currently in prison in Peru for drugs offences. Drug smugglers face long terms of imprisonment.
Indonesia Possession, trafficking and manufacture of any illegal drugs are serious offences in Indonesia. The Indonesian authorities have a zero-tolerance policy and those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, usually after a protracted and expensive legal process.

More information about the Mules are Fools campaign can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/drug-crime-not-worth-the-risk

If you have any enquiries for FCO consular staff before you go or while abroad you can ask questions via the FCO’s Twitter service @FCOtravel. This service adds to the ways that British people travelling or living overseas can already get in touch with the FCO: by emailing the travel advice team or contacting local consular staff.

You can also keep up-to-date with the latest FCO travel advice by signing up to the FCO’s Facebook and Twitter feeds: www.facebook.com/fcotravel or twitter.com/fcotravel