Darkweb drug markets are partly responsible for the recent record high drug seizures at the Australian border, according to a report published by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released their 2018 to 2019 Illicit Drug Data Report. In the report, they highlighted a number of trends among Australian drug users during the time period. During this period new records were set, including:

  • 5,378 national cocaine seizures;
  • 5.1 tonnes of amphetamine type stimulants (minus MDMA);
  • 5,016 arrests for cocaine;
  • 1,029 arrests for hallucinogen;
  • 1,363 anesthetic detected at the border.

“Over the last decade, during which time the Australian population increased around 13 per cent, the number of national illicit drug seizures increased 77 per cent, the weight of illicit drugs seized nationally increased 241 per cent and the number of national illicit drug arrests increased 80 per cent with 153,377 arrests in 2018–19.”

According to the report, “In Australia, while there are limited supply and demand indicators directly linked to online illicit drug purchases, available data suggest that online markets are a relatively niche, but nonetheless established, source of illicit drugs,”

The number of detections of drugs in the mail stream has increased, over the last decade. The weight detected decreased during the same time period.

Over the last decade Heroin reported the greatest increase in the proportion of international mail stream detections, it doubled from 2009–10 to 2018–19. The proportion of international mail stream detections of amphetamine type stimulants, MDMA, heroin, and cannabis has fluctuated over the last decade, though overall the proportions decreased.

ACIC drug detections

The Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program collects criminal justice and drug use information from people detained by the police. In 2014, the DUMA program interviewed police detainees on the issue of buying drugs online. Only five per cent of respondents in the survey had purchased drugs online. Respondents most commonly purchased methylamphetamine (42 per cent), cannabis (27 per cent), MDMA (27 per cent), pharmaceuticals (20 per cent), heroin (14 per cent), and alcohol (7 per cent).

However, in 2018, as much as 59 percent of respondents had used a mobile device to buy or sell illegal substances. Of detainees interviewed, 53 percent of respondents had used simple messaging applications to source their substances. “Findings of this study again illustrate that not all drug dealing using technology involves encrypted communications and how technology may be used to facilitate drug transactions,” the ACIC report said.

The ACIC report recorded the differences in drug prices on the street and available on darkweb markets. “Although prices vary among suppliers based on the drug’s ‘quality’ and market demand, in general drug prices on the darknet—particularly for methylamphetamine and MDMA—are reportedly cheaper than local street prices.” In the 2018-19 period covered in the report, the average price for one gram of methylamphetamine on the darkweb was $179. In Victoria during the same period, a gram of methylamphetamine was $200 with a national median street price of $38.

MDMA prices were also better on the darkweb. The price for one gram of MDMA on the darkweb was $79. In Victoria, the price for one gram of MDMA ranged from between $100 and $200 with a national median street price of $200. According to the report, the prices of heroin and cocaine on the darkweb were similar to their local prices.

The breakdown of purchases linked to the internet (2018-2019):

  • 1,234 seizures (43 per cent) were cannabis
  • 387 seizures (13 per cent) were MDMA
  • 118 seizures (4 per cent) were heroin
  • 741 seizures (26 per cent) were methylamphetamine
  • 410 seizures (14 per cent) were cocaine.

End of ACIC report

The report also described the operation led by law enforcement in the United States and in the Netherlands that resulted in the seizure of Alphabay and Hansa Market.

“Lessons learnt from the take down of Silk Road were applied to the take down of AlphaBay and Hansa, in particular the tendency of online users to switch almost immediately from one online market to another. In effect, the international collaboration meant that many AlphaBay users transitioned to Hansa, which was law enforcement controlled at the relevant time. This example demonstrates the scope of the issue and the necessity of close international collaboration to take down online marketplaces of this type. Law enforcement agencies worldwide benefit from such take downs through receipt of data on buyers and sellers, which may generate follow up investigations in Australia and elsewhere.”