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Darknet Purchases Increasing as Drug War Continues to Fail

Shopping for drugs on darknet marketplaces is growing despite authorities’ concerted efforts to shut them down, according to a new survey.

Also read: OpenBazaar is Here but Darknet Markets Will Remain

The Darknet Lives

The Global Drug Survey 2016 (GDS) reports that almost one in 10 participants (9.3 percent) have purchased drugs on the internet at least once — up from 6.7 percent in 2015 and 4.5 percent in 2014.

Over 101,000 people from over 50 countries participated in the GDS, which claims to be the world’s largest annual survey of its kind.

The most commonly-purchased drugs online are cannabis, MDMA, LSD and more exotic substances such as 2C-B and DMT are the most commonly-bought drugs.

One figure bound to prick up public policy ears: 5 percent of survey respondents claimed they had not consumed drugs prior to accessing them through darknet markets (DNMs).

This fact suggests that DNMs are creating new markets for drugs, as well as serving existing ones — and that efforts to stop them are probably futile.

About the Global Drug Survey

The Global Drug Survey is an independent research organization with an international team of 40 researchers in 30 countries. It studies drug user behavior from the perspective of public health and harm reduction.

GDS founder Dr. Adam R. Winstock said:

“Online markets give people unprecedented choice and access to different drugs. But better quality drugs have their own problems and more drugs don’t always equal more fun.”

Dr. Winstock began surveying drug use in 1999 as part of his research into health issues surrounding British dance culture.

There has been an increase in use of MDMA and cocaine over the past three years, with higher-quality drugs leading to concerns over increasing risk of “acute harm.”

Female users of MDMA are 2-3 times more likely to seek emergency medical treatment than males, and there has been a four-fold increase in female clubbers requiring emergency assistance.

Failure of the War on Drugs

Silk Road DarkentThe “War On Drugs,” started by the US government in the early 1970s, and distinguished by its complete lack of success at preventing drug use ever since, has found a new battleground on which to lose — the Internet.

Despite the fact that drugs bought on darknet markets are usually shipped via standard postal services and often cross international borders, authorities seem powerless to stop more than the occasional token delivery.

There have been several high-profile prosecutions of darknet drug users, vendors and particularly site administrators, including a life sentence for the man convicted of operating the original Silk Road market, Ross Ulbricht.

At the time of Ulbricht’s arrest, Silk Road was by far the most prominent of just a handful of darknet markets selling illegal products.

Almost three years later, there are at least 50 markets.

Health advocates have recommended for decades that drug use be treated as a public health issue instead of a criminal one — recommendations frequently resisted by some (though notably not all) law enforcement agencies for which the drug war provides a reliable source of equipment and revenue.

Fighting the War On Drugs is estimated to have cost the US federal and state governments a total of $15 billion USD in 2010, with over $19 billion already spent in the first six months of 2016.

Shopping for Drugs Online

Darknet markets are generally accessed only via the Tor network. Known as the ‘darknet’ due to its by-design anonymity and invisibility to standard Internet browsers, Tor is accessed via special but readily-available browser software.

The network was initially developed by employees of the United States Naval Research Laboratory in the 1990s, and its now maintained by volunteer developers.

Each marketplace maintains its own forum on Tor for users to discuss purchases, vendors and other related issues, though DNMs are also discussed openly on the regular Internet on forums like Reddit.

Can authorities do anything to stop purchases on darknet markets? Is legalizing all drugs a viable solution to the health and crime problem?


Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/DEA, Pirate Printing Company.