Body Packing and Body Stuffing

ByGerald F. O’Malley, DO, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center;
Rika O’Malley, MD, Grand Strand Medical Center
Reviewed/Revised Dec 2022
View Patient Education

Body packing and body stuffing involve swallowing drug-filled packets or placing them in body cavities to evade detection by law enforcement. Rupture of packets may result in drug absorption with potential overdose, but the overall medical risks vary depending on the amount and type of drug and the way it is packaged.

Body packing

Body packing often involves drugs with a high street value (primarily heroin or ) and is done to smuggle drugs across borders or other security checkpoints. The drugs may be placed in condoms or in packets enclosed by several layers of polyethylene or latex and sometimes covered with an outer layer of wax. After body packers swallow multiple packets, they typically take antimotility drugs to decrease intestinal motility to avoid passing the drugs until the packets can be retrieved.

Body stuffing

Body stuffing is similar to body packing; it occurs when people about to be apprehended by law enforcement swallow drug packets to avoid detection. Sometimes packets are placed in the rectum or vagina. Body stuffing usually involves much smaller amounts of drugs than does body packing, but the drugs are usually less securely wrapped, so overdose is still a concern.

Diagnosis of Body Packing and Stuffing

  • Clinical suspicion based on history

  • Pelvic and/or digital rectal examination

  • Sometimes plain x-ray

Suspected body packers and stuffers are usually brought to medical attention by law enforcement officials, but clinicians should consider body packing if recent travelers and newly incarcerated people present with coma or seizures of unknown etiology. Pelvic examination and digital rectal examination should be done to check those areas for drug packets. Plain x-rays can often confirm the presence of packets in the gastrointestinal tract.

Treatment of Body Packing and Stuffing

  • Supportive treatment for complications

  • Sometimes antidotes to specific drugs

  • Sometimes measures to remove drug packets

Treatment of patients with symptoms of overdose (and presumed packet rupture) is supportive and includes airway protection, respiratory and circulatory support, and antiseizure drugs, depending on patient symptoms. Sometimes, specific antidotes are indicated (see under specific drugs).

Usually, unruptured packets in the gastrointestinal tract can be removed by whole-bowel irrigation

Vaginal and rectal packets should be removed manually.

Drugs Mentioned In This Article
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