The “dark web” is an online network that requires specialized software, configurations, and authorization to use. The dark web allows people to access information in a way that is more anonymous and less traceable than the information available on the normal internet. Because of its more hidden nature, the dark web is frequently used by people who do not wish to be discovered as they conduct criminal activities.

Untraceable, Illicit Drug Sales

In 2011, a black market company called Silk Road started selling recreational drugs on the dark web. Silk Road used a combination of the dark web and Bitcoin to make transactions virtually untraceable. Silk Road was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2013, and its owner, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested and eventually sentenced to life in prison. The site was briefly relaunched by an associate of Ulbricht before being shut down again — this time for good.

When Silk Road was shut down and seized by the FBI, it was thought that this action would deter others who might be considering setting up dark web drug websites and illegally selling drugs online. However, this was not the case and other dealers soon started new sites. AlphaBay and Hansa soon replaced Silk Road and became the dominant drug vendors on the dark web. Soon after, they too were shut down and had all their assets seized by the FBI. AlphaBay-associated drug dealers were still being arrested a year and a half after the site was taken down.

Law Enforcement Combats Dark Web Drugs

The cycle of new dark web emerging and then being discovered and shut down by law enforcement has continued. As this happens, drug dealers develop new strategies to evade detection, and law enforcement discovers new techniques to counter these changes. Many dark web sites are not up for very long and people purchasing from these sites have become used to having to frequently change dealers.

In 2018, the FBI created the Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team, or J-Code, to address the increase in online drug dealers and decrease the amount of illegal drugs being sold. This special enforcement team not only investigates sites on the dark web that are selling drugs but also focuses on limiting information about how to access these illegal websites and to compromise the trustworthiness of these sites.

Law enforcement agencies hope that dealers will see that it is not worth it to start an illegal drug site as they are likely to be arrested within a couple of years.

Some people believe that law enforcement agencies are making progress and that the tools and strategies they are developing will eventually lead to the elimination of online drug sales. Others point out that, unfortunately, dealers continue to use the dark web in spite of the risks and it seems unlikely that this cycle will stop anytime in the near future.

While law enforcement continues to combat illegal drug sales online, it’s important to be aware of what your loved ones, particularly children, are doing and purchasing online. If you think that you or a loved one are struggling with drug addiction, help is available. Reach out to The Recovery Village and learn more about treatment options.