Despite enforcement actions over the last six years that led to the shutdown of about half a dozen online illegal drug sales websites, there are still close to 30 illegal online markets, according to the website DarknetLive. This week, customers could score five grams of heroin — “first hand quality no mix” — for 0.021 Bitcoin (roughly $170), or a tenth of a gram of crack cocaine for 0.0017 Bitcoin (roughly $14) on the market known as Berlusconi, reports the New York Times. The fight against online drug sales is starting to resemble the war on drugs in the physical world. There are raids, sites are taken down, arrests are made, and the trade and markets pop up somewhere else.
Dark web markets are viewed as a crucial source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids. These drugs are often produced in China and sent to users found on the dark net. The packages flowing from China are blamed for expanding the opioid crisis. Illicit online drug sales have grown since the shutdown of Silk Road, the original dark net market that came online in 2011 and initially offered only a small selection of psychedelic mushrooms. When the authorities took down the Silk Road in 2013 and jailed its creator, Ross Ulbricht, there was a widespread assumption that his failure would deter imitators. The dealers who had been selling the drugs on the market migrated to competing sites set up with a similar infrastructure, using the Tor web browser, which hides the location of the websites and their viewers, and Bitcoin, which allows for essentially anonymous payments. In early 2018, the FBI created the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team, or J-Code, with more than a dozen special agents and staff.