Opioid Regulations Pushing Those In Need To The Dark Web

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Opioid Regulations Pushing Those In Need To The Dark Web

By Beth Leipholtz 06/19/18

Researchers found that since the prescription opioid crackdown began, dark web sales for the targeted medications have steadily increased.

Image: 
man in hoodie looking at laptop in the dark

Rules meant to crack down on the use of opioids have instead turned some individuals to the black market, a new study has found.

UPI reports that in 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) put new regulations on hydrocodone (e.g. Vicodin), making it more difficult to prescribe and taking away automatic refill options.

From mid-2013 to mid-2015, the number of prescriptions decreased greatly. 

However, some individuals had found another way to access the medications: the internet. Research published in the journal BMJ revealed that since the new regulations were put in place, more people are buying opioids online without a prescription, using “software-encrypted online portals that permit illegal sales and elude regulators.”

Researchers found that in the four years since 2014, opioid sales on the dark web have increased by about 4% annually. 

"This [DEA] action did have the hoped-for effect of reducing the number of prescriptions issued for these products," study author Judith Aldridge, a professor of criminology at the University of Manchester in England, told UPI. "[But] our team found that sales on the so-called 'dark net' of opioid prescription medications increased following the DEA's initiative.”

Aldridge also says it was beyond the one type of medication. 

"And this increase was not just observed for medications containing hydrocodone,” she said. “We also saw increased dark-net sales for products containing much stronger opioids, like oxycodone (OxyContin) and fentanyl.”

A team of investigators used “web crawler” software to look in-depth at 31 "cryptomarkets" that operated before and after the new regulations. In doing so, they found minimal changes to the sales of sedatives, steroids, stimulants or illegal opioids (ones that are not prescribed by medical professionals).

On the other hand, investigators found that dark web sales of prescription opioids had increased in overall sales in 2016, making up about 14% of the sales. They also found that of those, more purchases were made for fentanyl than hydrocodone. In 2014, fentanyl had been the least popular dark web prescription opioid, but in 2016 it was the second most popular.

According to researchers, one difficulty with dark web sales is that they are more complicated to monitor. 

"Solutions here are not simple," Aldridge said. "However, we know very well that our results were entirely predictable. Solutions must combine cutting supply and tackling demand at the same time. This requires making prevention and treatment grounded in good science available for all."

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