Opioids and other pharmaceuticals comprise substantial part of the dark web’s overall business, say pharmacy researchers
A group of clinical researchers, led by Professor Robert Raffa from Temple University’s School of Pharmacy, US, have reviewed the latest of what we know about the “Darknet”.
Here are 10 things you should know about this network often used to sell illegal drugs.
1. The Darknet comprises networks that are independent of the visible Internet, and cannot be accessed via conventional search engines such as Google or Yahoo.
2. Access to the Darknet is obtained via specific portals, which require special software and encryption but are not difficult to use.
3. Silk Road (later retooled as Silk Road 1, Silk Road Reloaded and Silk Road 3.0) is one of the best-known examples of the Darknet. The original Silk Road site was shut down and its founder sent to prison, convicted of eight charges in US Federal Court and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. However copycats and new iterations appear regularly.
4. Drugs that are sold over the dark web include – but are not limited to – the familiar roster of illegal drugs (cannabis, ecstasy, heroin and others), pharmaceutical products sold to buyers (prescription pain killers and anxiety medications) and new psychoactive substances or “designer drugs”.
5. Payments are made in cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, which offer peer-to-peer Internet transactions without the need for cash or an intermediary such as a bank.
6. Silk Road 3.0 has been estimated to have generated about $500,000 per day of income; top vendors on the site are thought to have made a net profit of over $1 million annually. Analysis of cryptomarkets from 2014-15 reveals there are about 2,700 vendors from 70 different countries that sell illicit drugs on the Darknet, with a total of 48,000 product listings.
7. While opioids were not among Silk Road 3.0’s best sellers, they comprised a substantial part of the Darknet overall business.
8. In a 2014-15 study, Darknet purchasers were asked to submit drugs for analysis. Of the total 219 samples that were analysed, the majority (91.3%) contained the drugs as advertised – but with significantly varying levels of purity.
9. A study of Darknet drug purchasers has identified two main types:
a. The first type purchases drugs online for recreational use, and tends to be a well-educated Caucasian male who views technology as a good way to avoid the potential legal and social hassles of making face-to-face “street” deals.
b. The second type tends to be an individual lacking both financial resources and health insurance, who shops on the Darknet to buy prescription drugs, sometimes (but not exclusively) to control pain.
10. Based on surveys, the perceived anonymity of the Darknet and relative safety of obtaining illicit drugs at home rather than “on the street” emboldens greater use, which could lead to increasing numbers of patients becoming illicit drug users.
See the full commentary article in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
In November 2013, 21-year-old Daniel Skelly from Sydney’s Northern Beaches purchased $900 worth of cocaine from Sheep or Black Market Reloaded. These websites, which are no longer active, listed page after page of illegal drugs, prescription medication, synthetic drugs and even guns.
Daniel paid with the cryptocurrency Bitcoin and three days later received drugs in the mail, which were delivered in innocuous-looking express post envelopes.
While Daniel’s parents were overseas, the University of Sydney engineering student died alone at home.
He was found lying on his parents’ bed with cocaine residue on his desk. Toxicology tests revealed non-lethal levels of cocaine; however the drug had been cut down with the potentially toxic levamisole.
As Professor Raffa explains, it is difficult for consumers to know exactly what they are buying when they purchase drugs on the Darknet.
And according to the Global Drug Survey 2017: Key Findings report, “The Darknet markets offer users the opportunity to obtain good quality cocaine with reduced levels of perceived risk. As such, it might be the case that darknet markets lead to more harmful use by some people.”
Results from the 2017 survey reveal the most popular drugs ever obtained through Darknet markets are:
- New psychoactive substances
- Cannabis, and
The sample used in the report included 63,212 respondents who completed the Darknet market section, all of whom reported last-year use of drugs (including pharmaceutical and novel substances).