As the opioid crisis worsens, authorities are confronting a resurgent player in the illicit trade of deadly drugs, one that threatens to be more formidable than the cartels: the internet, reports the New York Times. In a growing number of arrests and overdoses, drugs were bought online. Internet sales have allowed powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl — the fastest-growing cause of overdoses — to reach homes in nearly every U.S. region, as they arrive in small packages in the mail. The authorities have been frustrated in cracking down because most sites exist on the so-called dark web, where buyers visit anonymously using special browsers and purchase with virtual currencies like Bitcoin.
The problem of dark web sales appeared to have been stamped out in 2013, when the most famous online marketplace for drugs, known as Silk Road, was shut down. Since then, countless successors have popped up, making the drugs readily available to tens of thousands. Among the dead are Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, both 13, who died last fall in the wealthy resort town of Park City, Utah, after taking a synthetic opioid known as U-47700 or Pinky. The boys had received the powder from another teen, who bought drugs on the dark web using Bitcoin, said the Park City police chief. The deadly efficiency of synthetic opioids makes them ideal for sale online. Unlike heroin and prescription painkillers, which are relatively bulky, enough fentanyl to get 50,000 people high can fit in a standard envelope. The leading websites do far more business than the original Silk Road, say RAND Europe and Carnegie Mellon University researchers. The dark web “has come to play a key role in the overdose crisis,” said Tim Plancon of the Drug Enforcement Administration office overseeing Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio, states at the epicenter of the crisis.