Proving to be even more a formidable enemy than the drug cartels, the internet has emerged as the biggest threat in America’s worsening opioid crisis.
Internet sales of powerful synthetic opioids such as deadly fentanyl are on the rise, because they’re easier and cheaper to obtain. Police, on the other hand, are usually helpless to stop drug traffickers who deal on the so-called “dark web,” which allows buyers to anonymously purchase illegal drugs with virtual currencies such as Bitcoin.
Drug sales on the dark web were supposedly disabled in a 2013 drug bust of an online marketplace known as Silk Road. But since then, more drug dealers have filled that void, able to sell drugs to people who would not normally have access to them.
Two Utah 13-year-olds, Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, died last fall when another teen gave them some powder he’d obtained on the dark web using Bitcoin, according to Park City police. The boys were killed by a synthetic opioid known as U-47700 or Pinky.
“It’s unimaginable that Grant could gain access to a drug like Pinky so easily, and be gone so quickly, poof,” said Jim Seaver, Grant’s father. “The pain and brutality of this tragedy is crippling.”
Now considered to be worse than heroin, incredibly potent synthetic opioids have become the fastest-growing cause of today’s overdose epidemic. In fact, taking just a few flakes of fentanyl can kill you, which makes it ideal for online sales. According to a recent report in the New York Times, “Unlike heroin and prescription painkillers, which are relatively bulky, enough fentanyl to get nearly 50,000 people high can fit in a standard first-class envelope.”
Silk Road was the first online marketer, paving the way for what has become an incredibly lucrative business involving synthetic opioids. According to authorities, the dark web “has become such an important source of distribution for this sort of deadly drug,” said Kathryn Haun, the Justice Department’s first Digital Currency Coordinator. “It has enabled distribution channels that previously didn’t exist.”
“As of Friday, the leading dark net market, AlphaBay, had more than 21,000 listings for opioids and more than 4,100 for fentanyl and similar drugs, from dozens of dealers, large and small. Many of those individual listings are like items in a catalog, representing an endless back-room supply of pills, powders and nasal sprays,” according to the Times report.
“I was injecting slowly got 1/3rd of the hit in, next thing i know i wake up with 3 paramedics above me,” a user named AgentOrange 007 wrote in a forum posting on AlphaBay. “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.”
Legislation has been introduced in Congress aimed at increasing the requirements on information gathered by the Postal Service. At a Senate hearing on the epidemic last month, Postal Service officials said they were trying to get more information on more packages coming into the country from China.
However, fentanyl listings on AlphaBay and other dark web sites have been on a steady rise. In fact, fentanyl was the drug the singer Prince overdosed on, proving that this scourge does not discriminate between rich or poor, black or white, young or old. It’s a equal-opportunity killer, and experts say that the problem is likely to get worse, not better.
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