Psychiatrics on the dark web: a cryptomarket analysis


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Introduction

Cryptomarkets offer new and accessible ways to study the drug trade, and research has begun to extend beyond analysis of the markets as a whole and focus on specific product categories, allowing comparisons of how different sections of the market function. By comparing dark net activity between drugs categorisations it is possible to shine a light on at least a corner of the illegal trade in these specific drugs.

One section of the market that has received little attention has been the trade in psychiatric drugs yet there is widespread abuse potential for a number of these products: from psychostimulants such as methylphenidate (ritalin) or modafinil (normally prescribed to aid concentration) and highly addictive sedatives such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax), to drugs for which the abuse potential is only now becoming clear, such as gabapentin or pregabalin (normally prescribed by psychiatrists for anxiety) or even antipsychotic drugs used in the treatment of schizophrenia.

Method

This paper will draw on two sources of data – a longitudinal analysis of the amount of psychiatric drugs sold on 32 of the world largest cryptomarkets to have been in operation since September 2013, characterising both vendors and products, followed by a content analysis of the specific nature of psychiatric drugs available and usage guidance given on the markets.

Results

Preliminary results appear to indicate that there is a very limited amount of these product sold online but those that are available are more likely to be listed in larger quantities. While most products appear to simply describe product contents with little to no usage instructions, qualitative descriptions of those cases which offer more information make no mention of the euphoriant or non-clinical effects of the drugs. Vendors appear to be active across psychiatric drugs categories, with little overlap into non-medicinal products.

Discussion

This paints an intriguing picture of the online psychiatric drug trade, which is limited in size, seems to focus on wholesale quantities more than other product groups and involves vendors with high degrees of specialisation. The paucity of descriptions of the drugs’ effects suggests an informed customer base. This implies something of a subcultural group within the market places used to supply a small subsection of consumers, or perhaps engaged in unlicensed medical-type practice.

This content has been updated on 5 March 2018 at 15 h 04 min.