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The Alarming Increase in Dark Web Drugs

A new study from the Australian National University (ANU) suggests it has never been easier to buy synthetic opioids on the dark web. The equivalent of  billions of doses a day are available, giving people easy access to drugs such as carfentanil and fentanyl.

Carfentanil was originally designed for sedating elephants and is not intended for human use.

The researchers behind the report say that it highlights a massive synthetic opioid market operating through the dark web.

The researchers discovered millions of doses went up for sale each day. There was an average 15-22kg of these potent drugs available through the dark web.

Fentanyl and Carfentanil

Fentanyl is one of many designer synthetic opioids. It is considered to be 100x more powerful than morphine. It is so potent that the average dose of fentanyl is 200 micrograms. Researchers discovered that millions of fentanyl doses were available for purchase every day.

Carfentanil is even more powerful, coming in at around 10,000 the strength of morphine. The amount of carfentanil available online is nothing short of alarming. Researchers were stunned by how much of the drug they were able to find, with billions of doses available for purchase any given day.

Criminal networks use fentanyl to lace their heroin to create synthetic heroin that has changed the landscape of how narcotics are sold.

Fentanyl was once limited and used only as an anaesthetic. It is a potent knock-out drug that is effective but short-acting. Recently it has become used more and more as a recreational opioid. Some people who use fentanyl are addicts who became addicted after using it as prescription medication.

It’s possible for fentanyl to be made safely, such as in a kitchen Breaking Bad style, but carfentanil is considered to be a biohazard because of how dangerous it is.

Drugs on The Dark Web

The researchers collected data from the dark web across 51 days in January and February of 2019, analysing six of the most popular dark web markets.

Over 123,000 unique drug listings could be found online, with around 7,400 of opioids listed on six sites that are basically the “Main Street” of the dark web markets.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the global market for narcotics has changed. The bigger picture is that there has been a shift to factory produced synthetics instead of plant-based narcotics. Amphetamines, opioids, and designer drugs have become the popular choice.

This kind of cybercrime brings with it significant challenges for the police to overcome. The quantities of the drugs has been scaled down and, when coupled with the anonymous access offered to users and distributors alike, it makes it difficult to detect and monitor drug activity.

Key Findings from the ANU Report

  • Data collected from six dark web markets every day between 2 January and 23 February 2019 reveal the type, amount, and physical forms of fentanyl on the market
  • Of the 123,000+ unique drug listings found by researchers, around 7,400 were for opioids
  • 439 of the drugs listed (0.347%) were for fentanyl products
  • Between 15 and 22kg of fentanyl could be bought on nay given day, with average prices per gram falling between A$30 and A$301
  • Over half of all drugs listed were found on mainstream dark web marketplaces
  • Products laced with fentanyl were found under a range of colloquial names including Bear, TNT, Apache, and China White
  • Fentanyl is available in five physical forms including powder, tablets, sprays, and solutions. The most popular choices are powder and patches

Drug Identification Tests

Law enforcement agencies use a range of presumptive drug test kits which allow a suspect sample to be tested to identify if it is a drug. With more and more drugs being supplied by dealers on the dark web and delivered to end-users by post, suspect tablets and powders that are intercepted can be identified using a specialist drug identification test.

The range of drug identification tests offered by Zoom Testing is wide and covers most commonly used drugs of abuse,

Best Drug Identification Tests

Dark Web Drugs in 2021

The global pandemic of 2020 had a massive impact on the drugs trade, particularly in the purchase of drugs over the dark web. As more people in the UK were forced to stay indoors, there’s online drugs trade boomed. In 2021, Adele Robinson carried out an investigation into the buying and selling of illegal sleeping and anxiety pills. This podcast explain how lockdown fuelled the online drugs market.

In early 2021, police swooped to arrest suspected members of an organised crime group responsible for selling massive quantities of MDMA on the dark web. At the same time, postal authorities in various countries all announced a sharp increase in drugs being sent by post, with a record number of packages being seized by authorities before arriving at their intended destination,.


Photo Credit: “meds” (CC BY 2.0) by Rob Ireton

Zoom Testing is a leading UK drug testing company and a supplier of Drug Test Kits.

This post was originally published in April 2019.


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