According to figures from the Buenos Aires Ministry of Health, the hospital closest to the city’s international airport treats an average of one drug mule a week, an indication of the increased amount of cocaine shipped through Argentina.

Between 2012 and the first five months of 2013, Hospital Ezeiza has treated 80 patients who were caught carrying capsules loaded with cocaine in their digestive systems, Clarin reports. The patients eventually expelled approximately 640 kilos of cocaine.

The hospital has a special unit dedicated to receiving the patients, the majority of whom are men carrying an average of 80 grams of cocaine within their bodies. More than 60 percent of the patients are nationals from countries in the Americas, primarily Peru. Many other of the hospitalized drug mules are South African. 

Approximately two percent of the patients treated in hospital died from ingesting the cocaine capsules. 

According to the director of the hospital unit that specializes in treating the drug mules, traffickers have recently shifted their tactics in an attempt to make it more difficult for airport security to detect smugglers. Starting in 2011, the hospital began receiving patients who had ingested capsules of liquid cocaine, which is more difficult to detect by radiography. Currently, around 40 percent of the patients treated in Ezeiza have ingested liquid cocaine. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The number of patients hospitalized in Ezeiza is one illustration of the amount of cocaine being trafficked from Argentina. The country has the second largest domestic market in the region for cocaine, just after Brazil, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It is also an important transit country for cocaine shipments headed to Europe, as indicated by prominent cases such as the Julia brothers, arrested and sentenced in Spain for chartering a jet loaded with 945 kilos of the drug.  

The numbers from the Buenos Aires health ministry are also indicative of the desperation that may drive some people to agree to become drug mules, especially the three percent of the patients treated by the hospital between 2012 and 2013 who were pregnant.

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