35% of Drugs Bought on Dark Web are Not as Advertised

Scientists at RMIT University in Australia recently tested illicit drugs purchased online and were not surprised to find about 35% were not what they said they were, increasing the risk of unwanted side effects, potential overdose and death.

For the study, published in Drug and Alcohol Review, researchers analyzed 103 illicit drug samples sourced from the now-defunct dark web forum Test4Pay.

While 65% of samples contained only the advertised substance, 14% had a mixture of the advertised substance with other psychoactive or potentially harmful chemicals. Meanwhile, 21% of samples did not contain any of the advertised substances. 

MDMA, methamphetamines and heroin were consistently found to only contain the advertised substance. But products sold as ketamine, 2C-B and alprazolam were most likely to be completely substituted with other substances or new synthetic drugs. Of the 19 cocaine samples tested, only four were pure cocaine, while 13 contained other substances and two samples did not contain any cocaine at all.

Lead research Monica Barratt, RMIT’s Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Research Fellow, says the results arewere concerning as drugs sold through cryptomarkets—online vendors on the dark web—were initially believed to be less likely to be mixed or substituted with other substances.

“Cryptomarkets allow anonymous buyers to review purchases, which theoretically means vendors who sell inferior products are more likely to receive bad reviews, thereby rewarding vendors selling superior products,” said Barratt. “But despite this perception, our findings show prohibited drugs purchased from cryptomarkets are still not safe from adulteration and substitution.”

Either way, the Test4Pay dark web cryptomarket is not a problem anymore as it is now defunct, although others do typically arise when one shuts down. Still, it seems ever-evolving technology may be pushing people past the use of the dark web. According to the 2023 National Ecstasy and Related Drugs Reporting System survey, there was a slight decline of people buying drugs on the dark web, with more people turning to messaging and social media apps to source drugs.

Harm reduction services and safe injection sites

With Australians finding new ways to source illicit drugs, Barratt says it was more urgent than ever to launch more drug checking services. Currently, CanTEST is the only drug checking service available in Australia, with Queensland due to launch its own services this year and Victoria considering following suit.

While drug checking services have been operating around the world for over 50 years, Barratt said Australia remained resistant to expanding the harm reduction service.

“Australia’s resistance to opening more drug checking facilities stems from an assumption that drug checking ‘green lights’ drug use,” Barratt said. “Drug checking services never tell consumers that their drugs are ‘safe’ as no drug use can be 100% safe. What the service can do is explain the known risks of specific drugs, in a credible and non-judgmental way, enabling people who use drugs to adjust their behavior to reduce risk.”

That line of thinking is mirrored in the United States, for the most part, when it comes to the establishment of safe injection sites, where drug users are provided sterile equipment and supervision to help prevent overdoses.

The governors of California and Vermont both vetoed bills to allow the opening of safe injection sites in their states in 2022, and Pennsylvania’s Senate voted for a complete ban on the sites in 2023.

In fact, the only government-authorized supervised safe injection site in the U.S. opened in November 2021 in New York City. The non-profit OnPoint NYC operates two sites there—one in East Harlem and one in Washington Heights.

Last month, the city of Providence, Rhode Island approved the establishment of what will be the state’s first safe injection site, and the only one to operate outside of NYC thus far. Minnesota is the only other state to approve these sites, although no facility has been opened there yet.

In May 2023, the U.S. government provided a grant of more than $5 million over four years to NYU and Brown University to study the two sites in New York City, as well as the one in Providence. Researchers hope to enroll 1,000 adult drug users to study the sites’ effects on overdoses, to estimate their costs and to gauge potential savings for the health care and criminal justice systems. The grant marks the first time the U.S. government is paying for a study on safe injection sites.

What do you think?

39 points
Upvote Downvote

Written by C.L Martin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

MP calls for harsher term for dark web offender

Incognito Market’s $30M Crisis Sparks Exit Scam Fears