Topping the list of illicit drugs is an opioid which even the dark web is not willing to sell, Fentanyl. Fentanyl is drug classified as an opioid. The drug was primarily used as an anesthetic but its recent use alongside other recreational drugs has proven to be life-threatening. The dark web has always been a threat to the peace and harmony of the society. It has supplied the peaceful society with tools of mischief, ranging from drugs like heroin to weapons of mass destruction.
In a rather surprising discovery, the dark web has, voluntarily, rallied the vendors throughout the globe to ban fentanyl. This move will see the marketing and movement of fentanyl totally restricted throughout the dark web. It is notable that the dark web has always disregarded the social costs if the monetary benefit is good enough but the recent development has brought up a side of the dark web that was never witnessed before.
Fentanyl, as classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), is a schedule II drug. Drugs falling under the said category are the ones that can cause high physical and/or psychological dependence. Schedule II drugs include a wide array of chemicals and artificially synthesized substances. These drugs, generally, have a high abuse probability like heroin, morphine, opium etc.
The schedule II also contains some drugs that are prescribed by the physicians for making the body immune to pain for a brief period of time. These drugs can be particularly helpful in course of cancer treatment or extreme medical conditions. Research has shown that the danger lies in the overdose of them.
In 2017 alone, the US health ministry reported more than 29000 deaths with drug overdose as the underlying cause.
Fentanyl has been successfully administered to patients of cancer and to patients experiencing breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is where the person is under the influence of opiate pain medication but the pain temporarily breaks through the opiate barrier. The difference between a therapy-helping dose and a lethal dose can be as little as a microgram.
The use of fentanyl puts the patients in an induced state of euphoria and relaxation. Just like other opioids, it binds the body’s opiate receptors which makes a person immune to pain and emotions. While this can be helpful for patients going through traumatic medical conditions, the use and abuse of the drug can be very difficult to differentiate.
According to researchers the potency of fentanyl is such that a patient can become addicted to it without ever abusing it. Regular use of fentanyl, even in controlled dosages, can cause devastating damage to the respiratory system. Other effects include paranoia, delusions, immune system incapacitation and in uncontrolled dosages; death.
So what steps are being taken by the dark web alliance? There seems to be a rare alliance formed among the dark web vendors. The alliance has decided to vote on the delisting of fentanyl. They have announced that the dark web will see the drug classified as dangerous, delisted and banned. This step will effectively place fentanyl among the same class of goods which are a threat to humanity. The class contains weapons of mass destruction and mass-casualty firearms.
Head of operations for commodities, Vince O’Brien, of the National Crime Agency was the lead investigator on the case of illegal trafficking of fentanyl. He said, “it can be sent in a small package or moved as a liquid, which is significantly more challenging for us [to discover in our searches].” In addition to the above-mentioned method of shipment, the drug is also sold as a prescription drug in the form of a pill, blotter paper and even under the tongue film.
Under certain circumstances, fentanyl can be almost 100 times stronger than heroin. A very small quantity is required to produce the same effect as a significantly larger quantity of heroin. This potency has made it the most traded good in the past 18 months. The illegal traffickers have been successful in introducing the drug to the UK market.
It is estimated that the UK is losing as much as £10.7 B each year in this trade. Analysts say that the actual damage cannot be ascertained in monetary terms and may be much larger. According to the Office of National Statistics, in the UK, fentanyl has caused more than 160 casualties already. This figure is a steep 30% rise from last year’s 124 deaths related to the abuse of opioids.
As regarding the spread of the drug in the UK, Mr. Vince said, “UK dark web vendors target fentanyl users in other countries because of the higher profits. Fentanyl is very potent and is needed in much smaller quantities than heroin.”
The big question still stands unanswered, if the drug is such a great money earner and if fentanyl can earn much more than any other substance per gram (as the traffickers put it) then what forced the vendors to ban and delist it. According to market analysts, the decision has nothing to do with the well-being of society.
The vendors will go to any lengths for economic gains. Little do they care about the social costs but the continuity and anonymity of the trade are pivotal for any illegal activity.
With the rapidly increasing rate of overdose deaths, more and more crime investigation agencies across the globe are getting involved in investigating the produce, transfer, and use of the drug.
The drug is traced from the user to the supplier, from the supplier to the trafficker and from the trafficker to the manufacturer (who extracts the drug). The dark web cannot afford to let the dominoes fall.
Mr. Vince is of the opinion that dark web vendors seem to have made a commercial decision. According to him selling a drug that could lead to fatalities was more likely to attract attention from law enforcement agencies.
O’Brien in one of his interviews with the Observer said, “If they’ve got people selling very high-risk commodities then it’s going to increase the risk to them. There are marketplaces that will not accept listings for weapons and explosives. Those are the ones that will not accept listings for fentanyl. Clearly, law enforcement would prioritize the supply of weapons, explosives, and fentanyl over, for example, class C drugs – and that might well be why they do this.”
O’Brien added: “Every time we take down a dark web vendor we follow up with customers, and when we have done that, a number are turning up dead – there’s a real cautionary tale there.”
It is notable that the US has seen a 45% increase in deaths by fentanyl and other related drugs. According to the National Crime Agency fentanyl has replaced heroin as the market leader in illicit drugs.
The dark web may have its own ulterior motives in banning the drug. But whatever the reasons may be, it can be termed as is a step in the right direction.
The FDA and the DEA must look into the matter further. They must try to curtail the prescription of the drug. There should be a close watch on the produce, marketing and use of the drug. With lesser injections of the drug into the country, it can be safely said that fentanyl is in a position where it can be controlled and, if an alternate can be found, removed completely from the society.