Using Google To Buy Drugs Online
Last week, a good friend commented that kids are ordering drugs online from China.
Intrigued, I searched the Internet and found a website published by the DEA called Get Smart About Drugs. The headline read: Where are kids getting drugs?
In the past, the answer would have been from classmates at school, friends at a party, a medicine cabinet, or street-corner dealers.
Now young people are getting drugs online.
Teenager using a computer
An article in the New York Times Business section reported that opioid dealers use the Internet to sell lethal drugs and send them by mail.
A bipartisan Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs conducted a year-long probe, which confirmed what the DEA had long suspected: supplies of illicit drugs are pouring in from China.
Continuing with my research, I found another article in the January 31, 2018 edition of The Atlantic. The reporter, Olga Khazan, wrote, “The Internet is a surprisingly common method of obtaining fentanyl, an opioid that is responsible for more overdose deaths than heroin or prescription painkillers.”
Beth Mole, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology, is a health reporter for ARS Technica. She described how the subcommittee investigators started with simple Google searches and engaged six sellers out of the dozens they identified. Posing as first-time shoppers, they found the sellers extremely responsive, some replying to emails and customer service forms within minutes.
The online merchants preferred crypto-currency payments—primarily Bitcoin; but they also accepted payments through Western Union, MoneyGram, PayPal, credit cards, and prepaid gift cards.
The packages are mailed using the Express Mail Service (EMS), which is a global delivery system that uses each country’s postal service, including the USPS. Many sellers warned that using carriers such as UPS, FedEx, or DHL were not safe because packages were searched and detained.
It’s not uncommon for someone to start using opioids under a doctor’s care, then graduate to prescription painkillers. When that becomes too expensive, people turn to heroin.
Ultimately, the body demands more heroin, which can cost $100 per day and leaves abscesses on the skin.
“It’s stronger than your willpower,” a user said of the heroin’s pull.
Instead, addicts purchase $100 worth of fentanyl online, which can sustain them for three weeks.
Concerned about the crisis, China announced a ban on fentanyl. Wanting to avoid prosecution, online dealers tweaked their formulas.
A public health analyst at RTI International—an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide—said having different recipes for fentanyl increases the risk of overdose. The derivatives are dangerous because consumers don’t know what they’re taking, and how it might impact them.
One of the “tweaked” fentanyl drugs is known as U-47700 or “Pink.”
Unfortunately, “Pinky” has become popular with kids. The potent synthetic opioid caused two 8th graders in Park City, Utah to overdose and they died. According to the Park City Police Chief, the 13-year-olds, Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth, received the powder from another local teenager, who bought the drugs on the Internet using Bitcoin.
Grant Seaver and Ryan Ainsworth
As these heartbreakingly-tragic cases show, it is not hard for kids to use the Internet to buy drugs without their parents’ knowledge.
Because of their potency, synthetic opioids have become the fastest-growing cause of the overdose epidemic, overtaking heroin in many states. Just a few flakes of fentanyl can be fatal.
The white spot on the left penny shows a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Unlike heroin and prescription painkillers, which are relatively bulky, a standard first-class envelope can contain enough fentanyl to get 50,000 people high. This efficacy makes fentanyl ideal for selling online.
Standard first-class envelope
The chief of the organized crime task force in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland said, “We could give you a pretty good idea of the drug traffickers in town who can order kilos from Mexico — that’s a known commodity. What’s harder to track is the person ordering this from his grandmother’s basement.”
Known U.S. locations that sell fentanyl online from The Atlantic
Many who buy illicit drugs online do it through the so-called “dark web” – a part of the Internet you can only access using an anonymous browser. Because of their anonymity, sites on the dark web are harder for law enforcement to shut down.
The New York Times also reported that the United States is not the only country dealing with an influx of mail-order synthetic opioids. Canada and several European nations have also arrested online drug dealers.
Michael Gilbert, an independent researcher, published an article in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Having studied the crypto-markets, he said, “…not only do individual users buy drugs on the darknet, so do dealers who go on to resell the drug in their local area. A lot of people have used drugs that have flowed through crypto-markets without knowing…”
To mitigate the online sale of illicit drugs, the Senate subcommittee recommended that all international packages include “advanced electronic data”—specific information on barcodes that could help flag drug-bearing packages for postal workers. (Unfortunately, this approach is not feasible legally.)
Dismissing that suggestion, Michael Gilbert recommends “legalizing all drugs and regulating them like alcohol and tobacco. The risk of overdose is high because drugs are a poorly regulated product sold by unscrupulous middlemen. Imagine if you went to the bar and you said, ‘I’ll have a drink,’ and you didn’t know if it was beer, wine, or liquor.”
After my June 11th blog, Ending the Pot Ban?, our friend, Jim Kerrigan, commented: “I support legalization, of sorts, but not exactly now…What’s missing? Monitoring the issue.” Jim pointed out that we can’t detect if someone is high, and he’s especially concerned about people driving under the influence of drugs. He pointed out that when he drinks, he can breathe into a device that says, “Take Uber, dope.” And the police can detect and monitor alcohol levels.
He makes an important point. While I’ve been promoting legalizing drugs, I agree that we need to regulate, manage and monitor drugs like we do with alcohol.
Thanks for reading.
What about you? Are you as surprised as I to hear about kids buying illegal drugs over the Internet? Do you know someone who’s purchased illicit drugs on the Internet?
If you’d like to share your observations publicly, please click on the COMMENTS button. If you’d prefer to keep your replies confidential, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Warmest Regards, Michele
P.S. If you’re interested in reading my novel, Busted, which shows both sides of the drug war debate, please click on Amazon.