Abstract Background Illegal drug prices are extremely high, compared to similar goods. There is, however, considerable variation in value depending on place, market level and type of drugs. A prominent framework for the study of illegal drugs is the “risks and prices” model (Reuter & Kleiman, 1986). Enforcement is seen as a “tax” added to the regular price. In this paper, it is argued that such economic models are not sufficient to explain price variations at country-level. Drug markets are analysed as global trade networks in which a country's position has an impact on various features, including illegal drug prices. Methodology This paper uses social network analysis (SNA) to explain price markups between pairs of countries involved in the trafficking of illegal drugs between 1998 and 2007. It aims to explore a simple question: why do prices increase between two countries? Using relational data from various international organizations, separate trade networks were built for cocaine, heroin and cannabis. Wholesale price markups are predicted with measures of supply, demand, risks of seizures, geographic distance and global positioning within the networks. Reported prices (in $US) and purchasing power parity-adjusted values are analysed. Results Drug prices increase more sharply when drugs are headed to countries where law enforcement imposes higher costs on traffickers. The position and role of a country in global drug markets are also closely associated with the value of drugs. Price markups are lower if the destination country is a transit to large potential markets. Furthermore, price markups for cocaine and heroin are more pronounced when drugs are exported to countries that are better positioned in the legitimate world-economy, suggesting that relations in legal and illegal markets are directed in opposite directions. Conclusion Consistent with the world-system perspective, evidence is found of coherent world drug markets driven by both local realities and international relations.