New research reveals impact of darknet market seizures on opioid availability

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has today released a Research Report exploring the impact of law enforcement seizures and darknet market closures on the availability of fentanyl and other opioids on darknet markets.

Opioids, including the highly potent synthetic opioids fentanyl and carfentanil, are commonly sold on darknet markets. This research, conducted by the Australian National University’s Cybercrime Observatory, and commissioned by the AIC’s Serious and Organised Crime Research Laboratory, tracked data throughout 2019 from 12 large darknet markets that sold opioids.

Trends in opioid availability, vendor movement and cross-market activity, market stock value and variations in the prices of opioid products were cross-referenced with law enforcement activity, including market seizures, and voluntary market closures and exit scams.

The report shows that the voluntary closure of one market (Dream) led to significant dispersal and displacement to both emerging and popular robust markets, resulting in an increase in overall listings of opioids.

A subsequent law enforcement takedown of a market which accounted for the majority of fentanyl listings (Wall Street) also resulted in vendors moving elsewhere to list their products. However, a further takedown of a large market (Berlusconi), one which had grown significantly in response to other market closures, was followed by a significant decrease in overall opioid listings.

AIC Deputy Director Dr Rick Brown said that darknet markets have presented unique problems to law enforcement agencies, but that the results of this research highlight the importance of sustained law enforcement operations.

“This report has shown that darknet markets are complex.

“Vendors move quickly to sell their products elsewhere when markets shutdown, and it’s not until several major markets closed that we saw a real impact on total opioid listings.

“The results really reinforce the importance of sustained efforts by law enforcement agencies to combat the sale of opioids and other drugs online,” said Dr Brown.

The results are particularly important given the ongoing problems with opioid overdoses seen in North America, and concerns about the potential for synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, to infiltrate Australian drug markets. This report provides valuable evidence to help guide law enforcement agencies and their partners working to reduce the supply of opioids.

The report is available at https://www.aic.gov.au/publications/rr/rr18

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