Drug dealers around the globe have moved from street corners and back alleyways to underground online marketplaces. The online drug market has grown considerably in both the United States and across several continents around the globe. People of all ages now have access to any drug, at any quantity and at any time. This new availability of all types of drugs is extremely dangerous to the public.

Drugs on the Dark Web

Although the majority of illegal drug sales in the U.S. still take place on the streets, online markets such as “Silk Road,” Evolution,” “Alphabay,” “Agora” and many others have created an emerging brave new world of illicit and prescription drugs. Customers can browse through different types of drugs, read product or vendor reviews and have their narcotic of choice delivered to their doorstep.

All of these online drug markets are a part of the “dark websites” that are only accessible through specific browsers and have extensive encryption to make tracking them nearly impossible. According to the Global Drug Survey, the online drug industry grew from $15-$17 million in 2012 to $150 – $180 million in 2015. The same survey found that the percentage of American drug users who purchased drugs online grew from 8 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2016.[1]

Illustration of the popularity of online drug purchases.

So far, most of these online drug markets have been taken down fairly quickly. “Silk Road,” the first online drug marketplace, is on its fourth version after being shutdown by the FBI the previous three times. But as one online drug market closes, multiple others spring up in its place. This is due to the convenience it offers both drug dealers and users, who can avoid making face-to-face contact or risking a purchase on the streets.[2] All a person needs is a computer, Internet access and the digital currency known as Bitcoin.

Who is Buying Drugs Online and Why?

Some level of computer savvy is needed for individuals to successfully buy drugs online. The typical clients are professionals in their 20’s to 40’s who don’t want to deal with the dangers of street transactions. Additionally, though they are usually more expensive, drugs purchased online are also reportedly more potent than their street counterparts.[3]

One 2014 study, based on the responses of 9,470 people from the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States who had made recent online drug purchases, sheds some light on their motivations.[4]

Online drug sales reportedly offer:

  • A wider range of selection
  • Better quality
  • Greater convenience
  • Vendor rating systems

In addition to illicit drugs, purchasers can also find prescription drugs on the Dark Net. People who have addictions to prescription stimulants or opioids and can no longer obtain a script may find this option appealing.

“Reported sales of prescription drugs on “Silk road 2,” “Agora” and “Evolution” reached 4.6 million between 2013-2015.”

– Source: The Economist

Why The Online Drug Trade is Dangerous

All drugs, whether from the streets or online, are extremely dangerous. Perhaps the biggest danger is to public health. Drug abuse and addiction already contribute to the more than $400 billion in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses and criminal justice costs in the U.S. every year.[5] It was hard enough to curb drug abuse when it only involved street transactions; the emergence of online drug shopping will only make this more difficult.

“Drug abuse and addiction cost more than $400 billion to the U.S. every year.”

The online drug trade may also make it easier for adolescents and teenagers to purchase illegal drugs. Any fear of being seen purchasing drugs in public is eliminated through dark web shopping, not that online drug shopping is without its own risks. Adolescents who have access to the Internet and some money can buy as much of any type of drug they want, when in the past they would’ve been limited to what a street dealer had in stock and what they had the courage to actually purchase.

Another thing to consider is that buyers have no clue what they’re purchasing. Though vendor ratings and customer reviews can create some level of assurance, the fact is that anytime a person buys drugs, he or she has no idea what’s in them. Purchasing drugs from someone you’ve never seen or met before can be even more unsafe than street transactions, as street-level dealers usually try to maintain a reputation for quality and safety in the neighborhood in which they sell. Higher levels of potency, which online drugs are known for, can also increase the risk of overdose. One study in Spain that compared the purity level of cocaine purchased online vs. cocaine from the streets found that the drugs purchased online were nearly 50 percent purer.[6]

Illustration detailing the dangers of identity theft when purchasing drugs online.

There’s also the issue of potential identity theft or the release of personal information online. Sending financial information or any personal data to strangers is always dangerous and leaves a person vulnerable to having their information stolen and then sold. The practice is referred to as “doxxing,” which involves people actively researching and then broadcasting a person’s private information. Buying drugs online would presumably make “doxxing” much easier.

Drug abuse and addiction are among the largest threats to public health in the country and throughout the world. Whether you purchase drugs on the Internet or on the streets, drug use can put your health and life at risk. Continued drug use and abuse only increases this risk and often leads to addiction. Whether you’re dealing with a severe addiction or struggling with increasing problematic use, Unity Behavioral Health is here to help. Allow us to guide you from addiction to recovery. Contact us today at 561-708-5295 to learn more.

[1] www.globaldrugsurvey.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/GDS2016-Press-Release-1.pdf
[2] www.economist.com/news/international/21702176-drug-trade-moving-street-online-cryptomarkets-forced-compete
[3] reason.com/archives/2014/11/11/how-buying-drugs-online-became
[4] onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/add.12470/abstract
[5] addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/surgeon-generals-report.pdf
[6] www.ijdp.org/article/S0955-3959(16)30130-X/fulltext

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