Friday, 12 April 2019 08:01

ANU team finds potent drugs by the kilo for sale on dark web

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Professor Roderic Broadhurst: "We were shocked by the amount of carfentanil we found. Billions of doses are available online on any day.” Professor Roderic Broadhurst: "We were shocked by the amount of carfentanil we found. Billions of doses are available online on any day.” Supplied

A study by the Australian National University has found large amounts of potent drugs, equivalent to "billions of doses", for sale on the dark web, including synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

A statement from the university pointed out that carfentanil was not meant for human use and was originally meant for sedating elephants.

ANU researchers collected data from the dark web for 51 days in January and February 2019, analysing six mainstream dark web markets. More than 123,000 unique drug listings were online with nearly 7400 opioids listed in six “Main Street” dark web markets.

Professor Roderic Broadhurst of the ANU Cybercrime Observatory, the lead author of the study, said: “We are on the brink of a new opioid epidemic driven by synthetics like fentanyl and carfentanil that are driving a greater risk of overdose deaths.

“Accessing these drugs is almost as easy as buying a book on Amazon. Australia is a good market, because Australians pay a premium for drugs.

“There are fewer sellers selling big amounts and many sellers selling small amounts and it is in such small amounts, it makes it easy to move. It is like ants moving houses and extremely profitable.”

drugs sale

A range of potent drugs for sale on the dark web.

Millions of doses were found on the dark web each day, with an average of 15 to 22 kilograms for sale.

"Fentanyl is a designer synthetic opioid about 100 times more powerful than morphine,” said Professor Broadhurst. “The average dose of fentanyl is 200 micrograms. We found millions of doses of fentanyl available to buy every day.

“Carfentanil is 10,000 times more powerful than morphine and there are alarming amounts of it available online. We were shocked by the amount of carfentanil we found. Billions of doses are available online on any day.”

Professor Broadhurst said fentanyl was used to lace heroin and synthetic heroin. “Fentanyl used to be limited to the anaesthetic world. It is a powerful, but short acting knock-out drug, but it has now crept into general use as a recreational opioid,” he said.

“Some users are also addicted from previous pain relief prescription use. Fentanyl dealers could do a Breaking Bad and make it in their own kitchen but carfentanil is so dangerous it is a bio-hazard.”

Key findings from the study:

  • Data collected daily from six dark web markets between 2 January and 23 February revealed the amount, types and physical forms of fentanyl available.
  • Of more than 123,000 unique drug listings identified, nearly 7400 were opioids.
  • A total of 439 of all drugs listed (0.347%) were fentanyl products.
  • Between 15 and 22 kilograms of fentanyl were available on any day and the average price per gram varied between $30 and $301.
  • Over half the drugs available were listed on “main street” dark web market Wall Street.
  • Fentanyl-laced products were listed under colloquial names such as Apache, China White, Bear and TNT.
  • It came in five physical forms tablets, powder, solutions, and sprays. Patches and powder dominate.

Photos: courtesy Australian National University

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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