Epidemiology and medical management of body-packers in French Guiana between 2010 and 2015

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2022 Apr 16;3(2):e12603. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12603. eCollection 2022 Apr.


Background: French Guiana is used as a drug trafficking pipeline of cocaine to Europe. The number of arrests for transporting cocaine in corpore has increased exponentially in recent years. Since 2010, Cayenne Hospital's emergency care unit has applied a medical management protocol system for body-packers. Our objective was to describe the epidemiology of body-packers and to evaluate medical management.

Method: A retrospective descriptive study was performed among patients hospitalized in Cayenne Hospital for transporting cocaine in corpore between January 2010 and November 2015. In addition, a qualitative study including interviews of body-packers imprisoned in Rémire-Montjoly prison was conducted in April 2016.

Result: A total of 282 patients were included in the study. The median age was 24 years and the sex ratio M/W was to 4/1. Among them, 3.5% showed signs of severity (9 with pre-existing condition and 1 with severe form). No surgery or deaths were reported. Ten endoscopies were performed because of the delay in evacuation without complications. Approximately 28% of patients had urinary screening, of which 60.7% were positive. The median length of stay was 1.8 days. Prolonged length of stay was significantly associated with the presence of gastrointestinal symptoms, hypoglycemia, or having swallowed a minimum of 10 pellets.

Conclusion: This study led to a change in the management of body-packers in the hospital setting in Guiana. A computed tomography scan at discharge became more prevalent. Endoscopy has emerged as an effective and safe alternative to surgery. Despite the increase in the number of patients treated, it should be noted that there were few complications and no deaths in our cohort.

Keywords: French Guiana; body packer; body packing; cocaine; drug; mule.