What is the difference between body packing and body stuffing of heroin?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Rania Habal, MD; Chief Editor: Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD  more...
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Heroin remains one of the most frequently abused narcotics in the United States. It may be injected intravenously ("mainlining"), or subcutaneously (“skin-popping). It also can be ingested, snorted, or smoked. The presence of impurities may limit its absorption through mucous membranes, thus limiting its "rush" and "high" when sniffed or snorted.

Heroin poisoning occurs most commonly when an individual unintentionally overdoses on the drug. Poisoning may also occur in a "body packer," "body pusher," or "body stuffer." Body packers, also called "mules," are people who swallow and pack their GI tracts with bags of heroin in order to smuggle the illegal drug from one country to another. Body pushers conceal the drugs in their rectum and/or vagina. In both of these groups, the drugs are carefully packaged for safe passage, but poisoning occurs if the packages rupture. Body packing or pushing should be suspected in persons who are found unconscious at airports, during international flights, or soon after a trip to endemic countries.

Body stuffers, on the other hand, are people who ingest all the drugs in their possession in order to conceal the evidence from the police. Because these packages are typically not designed for safe GI transport, they easily rupture and frequently cause poisoning.

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