Throughout the past decade, the sourcing, marketing and trading of illicit drugs on the world wide web have grown at a rapid rate. The perception of high quality of products is the main catalyst driving customers to online drug marketplaces, especially those on the deep web, however, there is very little evidence supporting this assumption. Moreover, the perception of better prices also attracts customers to online darknet marketplaces, yet studies of darknet drug prices are very few and contradicting.
Practically speaking, online prices are actually higher for some drugs, variable depending on the quality and purity of the drug, changeable over time and variable according to the geographical location of the seller and the buyer.
A study performed by a group of researchers from the University of Manchester found out that the online prices of certain drugs were relatively low, when compared to prices on the street, but they concluded that this is usually related to bulk offers which are intended for further distribution and resale, so are incomparable to street prices at the customer level.
A recently published study focused on analyzing online drug purchases on the darknet and comparing drugs purchased online with those purchased offline regarding price, purity and adulteration in the Netherlands.
Design of the Study:
The study included data on consumer drug samples which were collected by the DIMS during the period from January 1, 2013 to January 1, 2016. The drug samples were analyzed chemically for their contents using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry along with liquid chromatography coupled with diode array detection (LC-DAD).
DIMS monitors the drug market in the Netherlands at customer level, as customers are capable of submitting drug samples in an anonymous manner at testing offices that are parts of regional institutes for the prevention and treatment of addiction all through the Netherlands. Drug sample data such as price, name given to the drug sold and region of purchase was recorded. Mean prices were described as price per pill (tablet), per blotter (e.g. for LSD), or per gram (for powder e.g. heroin, cocaine…etc).
Results of the Study:
The percentage of drug samples bought from online darknet marketplaces rose from 1.4% in 2013 to approximately 4.1% in 2015. Even more, the Global Drug Survey reported that darknet’s drug purchases has risen from 4.1% in 2015 to 6.7% by late 2016. The percentage varied widely, ranging from 6% for banned, traditional drugs such as ecstasy tablets, cocaine powder, 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA) powder, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), amphetamine powder and 4-bromo-2,5-dimethoxyphenethylamine (2C-B) to over 33% for new psychoactive substances (NPS) such as 4-fluoroamphetamine (4-FA), methoxetamine (MXE) and 5/6-(2-aminopropyl) benzofuran (5/6-APB).
The study found no great differences between the purity of drugs bought online and drugs bought offline on the street, yet a minor difference, existed for the purity of 4-FA (59% purity for online 4-FA, versus 52% purity for offline 4-FA), MDMA powders (45% purity for online MDMA, versus 61% for offline MDMA), 2C-B tablets (21 mg for every online purchased 2C-B tablet and 10 mg 2C-B per tablet purchased offline) and ecstasy tablets (131 mg per tablet purchased online and 121 mg per tablet purchased offline).
The percentage of adulterated drug samples did not vary markedly between online and offline purchased samples, except for 4-FA powder, as it was less adulterated when purchased online. Generally speaking, the prices of drugs purchased online, from the darknet, are essentially higher by 10% to 23% than those of drugs sold offline on the street.
Note: Even though online drug prices were higher than those purchased offline and purity didn’t vary considerably between offline and online purchased drugs, the authors of the paper emphasized that these findings cannot confirm or refute the high quality of drugs purchased online when compared to those purchased from offline marketplaces, at least in the Netherlands.