Pubdate: Mon, 08 Jun 2015
Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 2015 The Age Company Ltd
Author: Eileen Ormsby
Note: Eileen Ormsby is the author of Silk Road.


Dark web demand growing

Anyone following the Silk Road story could be forgiven for thinking 
that the online black market's shutdown in October 2013 and the 
sentencing of its owner to life in prison without parole last week 
meant the end of online drug sales. Nothing is further from the truth.

The results of the latest Global Drug Survey show the number of 
illicit drug users turning to the dark web  the hidden internet 
accessible with easily-obtained free software  is growing.

At its peak, Silk Road had 13,000 sales listings and made up 70 per 
cent of the dark web drug trade. There are now more than 43,000 
listings across more than 20 stores  the largest active market has 
more than 16,000 advertisements for illegal drugs.

More than 10 per cent of Australian recent drug users bought from the 
dark web markets ( compared with 5.9 per cent worldwide)  a steady 
rise on previous years. They said they were more comfortable buying 
online than face to face, experienced less violence and got a better- 
quality product.

Online drug dealers have to compete for customers by offering better- 
quality service and product. Like any e-commerce, they depend on 
customer feedback and repeat business. The markets encourage 
communities where like-minded people chat online about drugs, 
favoured sellers, experiences and harm reduction. Some markets even 
employ medical professionals to provide tailored drug-use advice to customers.

Drug users have not been frightened off by the high-profile arrests 
of dark web customers. GDS respondents reported that the overall 
experience was preferable to traditional face-to-face drug deals. The 
drug purity is higher, there is no need to meet shady characters and 
they are almost guaranteed to receive exactly what they ordered.

The same cannot be said for the most popular ways of procuring drugs 
from friends or acquaintances, from local dealers, in nightclubs or 
at festivals.

Many, particularly parents, are understandably concerned that the 
dark web marketplaces have provided ease of access to a wide array of 
drugs. But that concern is misdirected. A minute number of survey 
respondents said they would stop using drugs if the online option was 
no longer available. We should be more concerned at the alarming 26 
per cent of respondents who reported buying from strangers on the 
street, at festivals or in nightclubs.

This is the most dangerous way of buying illegal drugs. Unscrupulous 
or merely ignorant sellers may substitute cheaper drugs with similar 
highs, but very different consequences. Common substitutions are 25i- 
NBOMe being sold as LSD or PMA being sold as ecstasy. Both are far 
more dangerous than the drugs they purport to mimic.

Less than 5 per cent of GDS respondents who had used the dark web 
reported experiencing threats to their safety or violence resulting 
from buying drugs online. About 25 per cent had had such experiences 
in other forms of drug deals.

A clear message has come out of the survey that prohibition is not 
stopping young people from wanting and procuring drugs. More are 
seeking ways to make drug use safer. Most would prefer to do that 
with an end to the " war on drugs", along with legalisation, 
regulation and education. In the meantime, they will take their chances online.
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