Online marketplaces in the dark web have become popular destinations to conduct illicit trade activities especially drug trade. In the UK, the dark web has become the catalyst to the rise in the use of counterfeit Xanax.
The dark web is unindexed web that is only accessible by means of special software. This allows users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable. Many access the dark web through Tor, a free software that enables anonymous communication.
One of the biggest online black marketplaces used to be Silk Road. Launched in 2011, it became a popular platform for illegal drug trade. In October 2013, the FBI shut down Silk Road and arrested Ross William Ulbricht on charges of being its pseudonymous founder, "Dread Pirate Roberts.” He has been sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. In 2017, the 33-year-old’s appeal was denied.
Illicit trade and illegal activity is rampant on the dark web. In July 2017, two of the largest marketplaces in the “dark web”, Alphabay and Hansa, were shut-down in a joint effort by the US Department of Justice and Europol. Alphabay reportedly had more than 200,000 users and made $1 billion in revenue annually. Some of the darker web market places include Traderoute, and Valhalla.
The dark web has become a potent enabler to drug addiction in the UK. In particular, many teenagers have become addicted to a form of Xanax that can be obtained via marketplaces in the region. Xanax is a potent, short-acting benzodiazepine anxiolytic—a minor tranquilizer. Even though its usage is highly popular in America, in the UK, it is barely used and known. There has been a surge in counterfeit Xanax in the streets of UK as a result.
In January 2018, authorities intercepted 50kgs of alprazolam powder – enough to make 25 million of these drugs. From January to March, they have intercepted another 3kgs worth of that component. This is enough to make 860,989 counterfeit pills. The arrests curbed the supply of these drugs in the market and many users were forced into withdrawal. The symptoms of withdrawal for this particular drug can sometimes even be fatal.
WEDINOS, a drug-monitoring service in the UK ranked alprazolam third in its list of the top ten most commonly detected New Psychoactive Substances for the year 2016-2017. Professor Colin Drummond, a member of the Faculty of Addictions from the Royal College of Psychiatrists spoke to BBC about this problem. He said, “After just a few weeks of taking benzodiazepines, you develop dependence so that your tolerance for the drug increases and you start taking larger and larger doses. When you stop taking the benzodiazepines you end up with withdrawal symptoms, which give you things like anxiety, panic attacks [and] sometimes hallucinations. The longer it goes on, and the higher the dose, the worse it becomes.”
Eileen Ormsby, who has written about the dark web and market places in such regions of the internet, has noted that drug trafficking is not the only form of illicit trade taking place. In his book, Silk Road, he has written, “There are sites that claim to sell human organs the purchaser can collect from a third-world country. Others offer access to real-life Gladiator fights to the death, contract killing services or live streaming of pay-per-view torture. There are those who swear you can access details of live human experiments or obtain made-to-order snuff films. Yet another site promises to procure exotic animals. Identity items are a high-demand black market product and range from five-dollar licence copies that are good for nightclub entry and not much else, to passports …”
Our assessment is that law enforcement agencies should not only be equipped to adequately monitor trade in the dark web but also have the resources to down any copy-cat marketplaces that spring up when one marketplace is closed. The prevalence of the dark web makes it easier for anonymous buyers and users to conduct illegal activities and it can be done from any corner of the world. Thus, it poses a threat not only in specific regions but also countries like India.