Dark Web Drug Sales Continue To Thrive

By Lindsey Weedston 06/13/19

One expert says the ever-changing legal status of various drugs is allowing Darknet drug sales to thrive. 

person selling drugs on the dark net

An increasing number of illicit drug deals are taking place via the dark web, according to Nikita Malik, Director of the Centre on Radicalisation and Terrorism (CRT) at the Henry Jackson Society.

While researching for a report on how terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State use the dark web (or Darknet) for their illegal activities, Malik noticed just how many sales of controlled substances were taking place on marketplaces like the now-defunct Silk Road and AlphaBay. This activity, she says, has been boosted by the changing of the legal classification of said substances.

“A common form of criminal activity on the Darknet is the sale and distribution of illicit drugs, which has been bolstered by a change in the legal statuses of products or substances from ‘legal’ or ‘unregulated’ to ‘illegal,’ ‘controlled,’ or ‘banned’ substances,” Malik wrote for Forbes. “These changing legal statuses, combined with stricter regulation and the implementation of new laws by law enforcement, has meant that sales of the highest category of banned drugs and substances has increasingly migrated to marketplaces on the Darknet.”

Malik points to the role of the dark web in the sale of fentanyl, the synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than heroin, in the UK. The Guardian reported in 2017 that 1,000 “trades” had been made on the dark web involving fentanyl within the space of a few months, citing experts with the Oxford Internet Institute. The same team found that the U.S. “accounts for almost 40% of global darknet trade,” with the UK sitting at 9%.

After the Silk Road marketplace was shut down in 2013, numerous other dark web sites have popped up that allow users to anonymously purchase goods and services with blocked IPs and using the untraceable cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Though agencies such as the FBI and the National Crime Agency (NCA) work to infiltrate and shut down these operations, fentanyl continues to enter the U.S. at alarming rates. 

Fentanyl has been named as the driving force in a “third wave” of the opioid epidemic in the U.S. as sales of drugs containing fentanyl increase in number, as do overdose deaths. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overdose deaths involving fentanyl went from 1,615 in 2012 to 18,335 in 2016—an 11-fold increase in the space of four years.

“These figures, as well as multiple case studies and convictions, clearly reveal that the Darknet provides access to illegal drugs and banned substances,” Malik concludes. “Moreover, sales are expected to increase as the platform remains largely unregulated.”

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Lindsey Weedston is a Seattle area writer focused on mental health and addiction, politics, human rights, and various social issues. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Ravishly, ThinkProgress, Little Things, Yes! Magazine, and others. You can find her daily writings at NotSorryFeminism.com. Twitter: https://twitter.com/LindseyWeedston