The Silk Road was by far the first cryptomarket, or darknet marketplace, to gain international recognition in 2011 as an online trading platform facilitating illicit drug trafficking. Since then, the number of darknet marketplaces have greatly increased, and even though a wide range of illegal products are offered on these online marketplaces (stolen credit/debit cards, weapons and counterfeited legal documents e.g. passports, IDs….etc), illicit drugs represent the most commonly traded goods on these online platforms, namely cannabis, MDMA and OTC pharmaceuticals.
With the massive growth of cryptomarkets, it is crucial to examine the way in which drug users interact with these darknet marketplaces. A recently published paper analyzed the usage and knowledge of darknet marketplaces among a sample of Australians known to use stimulants on regular basis. The examined sample of Australian drug users were recruited via the Ecstasy and related Drug Reporting System (EDRS), which is a form of survey that recruits Australian drug users to inquire about their drug usage patterns and associated harms.
The Studied Sample:
The studied sample included 3,139 users recruited via the EDRS during the period between 2014 and 2017. Recruitment was done via advertisements on various social media networks, and via referrals by other participants (word of mouth). The recruited participants represented all Australian territories and states. Eligibility inclusion criteria included; using ecstasy, or other forms of stimulants, for at least one month during the six month period preceding the study, an age of 17 years or more and residence in a state’s capital city for at least 12 months prior to the survey.
Results of the Survey:
The survey showed that between 2014 and 2017, 17% of the studied sample reported purchasing an illicit drug over online marketplaces, while only 13% stated that they did so during the 12 months period preceding the survey. Moreover, the study revealed that there has been a considerable rise in the number of EDRS participants purchasing illicit drugs over the internet, rising from 14% in 2014 to 22% in 2017. The majority of users purchasing illicit drugs online (81% of all participants) reported doing so from various darknet marketplaces, while a small percentage (22%) bought their drugs from e-commerce websites on the “surface web”.
The study showed a rise in the number of Australian drug users using various darknet marketplaces to purchase illicit drugs. Moreover, there has been a great increase in the number of drug users purchasing exclusively from Australian darknet vendors. The reasons for this may be quite numerous but namely include avoidance of apprehension and the rise in the number of Australian vendors on various darknet marketplaces. Clearly, there is a great apprehension risk when purchasing drugs from darknet international vendors, especially when considering the tight controls across the Australian borders. This goes in context with the results of the research conducted by the Global Drug Survey that pointed out that Australian drug users refrain from using darknet marketplaces for “fear of being caught”. Despite these findings, the study found out that one third of all those purchasing their drugs online, exclusively did so via international darknet vendors.
Collectively, most participants in the survey purchased their drugs mainly via conventional means, i.e. from friends, or directly from dealers, rather than via online stores, whether on the surface web or on the deep web. A very small number of the surveyed Australian users reported purchasing their drugs exclusively from darknet marketplaces. Interestingly enough, a small number of surveyed users purchased their drugs from online stores on the surface web. The number of Australian online stores on the surface web has markedly declined since legislation banning was introduced, yet an increasing number of these surface web drug stores continued on serving Australian users.
MDMA, LSD and cannabis represent the most commonly purchased drugs by EDRS participants from various online portals, whether on the surface web or on the deep web. Qualitative research has proven that MDMA purchased over the darknet is of higher purity when compared to MDMA purchased over traditional offline markets. The study also proved that MDMA is more available on darknet markets than it is on offline markets, as MDMA is ranked among the top two drugs sold by darknet vendors.
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