Dark web technology was originally developed by American intelligence agencies to do encrypted communication. Now, news organizations like the New York Times use it to talk to informants that do not want to be traced. However, the dark web is worldwide and anyone can use it to talk about or sell anything that would be deemed illegal on an ordinary website.
A growing number of arrests have been made following the purchase of opioids from China over the dark web. These arrests are particularly hard to make because the dark web uses an anonymous server so that those using it cannot be traced. Sellers are using the U.S. postal service to send synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, in particular, because unlike cocaine or heroin which would be relatively bulky and easier to track in the mail, fentanyl is harder to discover.
The high potency of these drugs make them especially dangerous; enough fentanyl to kill 50,000 people can fit into a first-class envelope. Such high potency has led to thousands of overdoses in the past few years. In 2015, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids killed 9,580 people, which is 73 percent more than in 2014.
Authorities thought that they had shut down the selling of drugs on the dark web in 2013 when they shut down the most famous online marketplace called Silk Road and arrested Ross Ulbricht, its creator. But soon after, imitator marketplaces emerged and they are now doing more business than Silk Road ever did. The leading market is called AlphaBay which has over 21,000 listings for opioids with dozens of dealers ranging from big quantities to smaller quantities with drugs sold in all sorts of forms from pills and powders to nasal spray.
Last year, two dozen arrests were made on American drug dealers buying in bulk from the dark web in China and distributing in America. Latin American drug cartels are also buyings drugs from Asia and are then moving them into the United States. These synthetic drugs are produced in labs in Asia, usually China, because the chemicals used in them are legal or easy to obtain in these countries.
These drug overdoses have killed two 13 year old boys in Utah named Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, a 19 year old who tried the drugs before selling them, and even Prince who died of a fentanyl overdose. Although the number of overdoses in America are particularly high, Canada and several European countries have also reported deaths due to drugs bought on the dark web.
There are social forums on AlphaBay where customers review the drugs they have bought. One customer named AgentOrange 007 remarks on the potency of the drugs by claiming, “I was injecting slowly got 1/3rd of the hit in, next thing i know i wake up with 3 paramedics above me. If i hadn’t been found because i was making a loud snoring sound (tongue rolled back in my throat) i’d be dead no doubt.”
One of the biggest vendors on AlphaBay named BenzoChems shared a video of his operation in China and noted that the best way to send packages from China was first to Hong Kong and then to the U.S. Postal Service. BenzoChems also said he has listed his products on ordinary websites but they were quickly taken down by authorities. Congress is not trying to tighten requirements on information gathered by the Postal Service especially from packages coming in from China.
However, Ms. Haun, the former federal prosecutor in San Francisco is doubtful that these efforts will have much of an impact on the dark web market. “It’s only going to increase, and increase the types of communities and markets that might not have had as easy access to it before,” she said.
Featured Image via Pixabay