The Distribution of Opioids on a Darknet Markets – A Research Study

Crypto-marketplaces are marketplaces that are hosted on anonymous networks, such as the Tor network, or other Darknets, and are mainly focused on the sale of illegal substances and illicit drugs. These online marketplaces utilize various tools to ensure the anonymity of their users and confidentiality of the delivered products by mail. Throughout the past few years, illicit drug trafficking on Darknet marketplaces is increasingly representing a big share of the global drug dealing business.

A study conducted in 2016, aimed at analyzing the online practices of selling and buying of illicit drugs on one of the most active Crypto-marketplaces (Evolution) during the period between January 2014 to March 2015. Interestingly enough, the study identified around 48,000 drug listings and approximately 2,700 vendors offering to sell various illicit drugs from 70 countries. The results of the study revealed that the most common categories of drugs listed by vendors were cannabis (approximately 25%), followed by MDA and MDMA (ecstasy), stimulants (e.g. speed and cocaine), and opioids (e.g. heroin, fentanyl, codeine and morphine).

Opioids on the Darknet:

Opioids, or opiates, represent a large group of drugs that range from legal prescription drugs such as codeine and fentanyl, to illegal street drugs such as opium and heroin. Opioids represents the second biggest sub-category of listings after Marijuana on various crypto-marketplaces. These are the types of opiates you can find in these listings:

  • Heroin
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone (Percocet or Oxycontin)
  • Fentanyl
  • Hydrocodone (Lortab or Vicodin)
  • A new synthetic opioid labelled U-47700. Note: it was associated with severe toxicity and near death from respiratory failure.

Opiates’ listings are rather few, when compared to demand, on even the most popular darknet marketplaces such as AlphaBay, Dream market, Valhalla (Silkkitie) and Hansa Market and in most cases, these listings are few grams of heroin. When a new opiate vendor opens store, it is often considered a big thing happening e,g, a new opiate vendor opened his store on Dream market a couple of weeks ago, which was noticed and talked about a lot by many users of this crypto-marketplace as shown by the screenshot of the comment of one of the readers of

A recently published study examined the network structure of opioid distribution on one of the biggest Tor marketplaces (Crypto-market). The study started by identifying all active vendors of opioids that used the site on the 1st of April, 2016. Then, the webpage of each one of these vendors, which includes all buyers who bought from them over the past 6 months period (October, 2015 to April, 2016). The results of the study revealed that on Crypto-market, there were 763 different actors in the opioids category; 57 vendors & 706 buyers whom were interconnected to each other via 1,132 transactions. The following table represents the statistics of the findings of the study:

Just like other networks engaging in illegal activities, a crypto-market’s network for distribution of opioids is more or less diffuse with markedly low network density (0.002). In other words, approximately 0.2% of all unique transactions (e.g. when a vendor sells an item to a buyer for the first time), actually occur. As a comparison, the network density of jihadist networks, which have been studied by Bie and colleagues in 2017, was extremely low ranging between 0.2% and 0.4%, as these networks are known to be particularly diffuse. This low density observed in the study of Crypto-market opioid distribution may be attributed to buyers’ unwillingness to try out new vendors. Actually, even though a small number of buyers bought more than once, during the 6 months period preceding the study, (18.3%), only 30.6% of them tried new vendors.

The average opiate vendor on a Crypto-market finishes a large number of trades over a six months period, and buyers usually only engage in a small number of trades. The relative centralization of vendors’ review scores on the marketplace reflects a unique structure for a drug distribution network where a small number of actors engage in most trades across the network.

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