A study conducted by an Australian National University has concluded the online war on drugs will never be won despite the efforts by law enforcement agencies to disrupt the dark web drug trade.
The dark web is a collection of hidden internet sites only accessible by a specialized web browser called the tor browser.
The dark web is one of the easiest place for drug users to buy synthetic opioids like fentanyl (a special drug which is 80 times more potent than morphine) and a drug carfentanil ( originally created to sedate elephants).
Synthetic opioids are manufactured in labs and they have a similar painkilling high associated with natural occuring opioids like heroin and morphine.
Although cross-border take-downs by law enforcement have had a noticeable impact on the availability of those drugs, the Australian National University report has compared it to a game of whack a mole.
Australian National University professor of criminology Roderic Broadhurst said: “It seems when you push one of these dark web drug markets down, another pops up and they always take on a different form to previous markets,”.
“Will (law enforcement agencies) ever be able to suppress them? It seems unlikely based on what we know, but that would reflect how we see the real world.
“Whenever and wherever there is a demand, there will always be a supply. It’s a game of whack-a-mole or cat-and-mouse.”
Australian National University researchers tracked trends to measure changes in the cost and availability of opioids and the number of online dealers selling them.
Australian National University researchers looked at eight of the biggest markets from January to December 2019.
They looked at Empire, Apollon, Dream, Nightmare, Tochka (aka Point), Berlusconi, Valhalla (aka Silkitie) and Wall Street.
Then in April 2019, researchers found three new markets (Agartha, Dream Alt and Samsara). These markets had opened up after Wall Street and Valhalla Market were seized by law enforcement agencies, while Dream Market voluntarily closed shop.
Within the dark web markets, Australian vendors or dealers are importing opioids from overseas sellers.
A dark web vendor, Cody Ward (darknet alias “NSWGreat”) was a long-time Australian dark web market vendor who, supplied New South Wales with $17m worth of opioids.
NSW Police Strike Force Royden, with support from Australia Post, intercepted 85 parcels containing prohibited drugs that led to the arrest of Mr Ward and his co-conspirators in February 2019.
Cody was charged in May 2019 with both state and federal drug offences.
Professor Broadhurst however said law enforcement agencies were at least making it difficult for dark web drug dealers to sell opioids in Australia.
The deputy director of thee Australian Institute of Criminology, Dr Rick Brown, said research showed how crucial it was for law enforcement agencies to continue pursuing dark web criminals.
According to Dr Brown, “This report has shown that darknet markets are complex. Vendors move quickly to sell their products elsewhere when markets shut down, and it’s not until several major markets closed that we saw a real impact on total opioid listings,”.