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Curtin University
National Drug Research Institute

Preventing Harmful Drug Use In Australia

Drugs on the darknet: Assessing the global health risks of a rapidly expanding market

Project Team

Chief Investigators:

Dr Monica Barratt, National Drug and Alcohol Research Institute, University of New South Wales
Dr James Martin, Macquarie University
Professor Ross Coomber, Griffith University
Professor Alison Ritter, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Associate Professor Aili Malm, California State University
Dr David Decary-Hetu, University of Montreal
Professor Judith Aldridge, University of Manchester
Dr Jason Ferris, University of Queensland

Co-investigators:

Dr Adam Winstock, King's College London
Professor Alex Stevens, University of Kent
Dr Alexia Maddox, Deakin University
Ms Amanda Roxburgh, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Dr Angus Bancroft, University of Edinburgh
Mr Joe Van Buskirk, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
Associate Professor Raimondo Bruno, University of Tasmania
Professor Simon Lenton, National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Mr Tim Bingham

Contact Person:

Dr Monica Barratt, National Drug and Alcohol Research Institute, University of New South Wales

Project

Buying illegal drugs through the internet captured the public imagination after the emergence of Silk Road in 2011. Silk Road, and its successors that

followed (after Silk Road was shut down by the FBI in 2013), provide a means to purchase illicit drugs online and have them delivered via parcel post. These

online markets are known as ‘cryptomarkets’ because they rely upon encryption technologies: anonymising networks (Tor) and virtual currencies (Bitcoin). Relatively high rates of participation in cryptomarkets have been reported in Australia: in a study of the cryptomarket Agora, Australia had the

highest rate of drug retailers per capita. Consistent with high rates of cryptomarket use, successive reports from the Australian Crime Commission illustrate

exponential growth in the detection of illicit drugs in the parcel post destined for Australians. There is also evidence that internationally, cryptomarkets are

expanding: they generated sales upwards of $180M USD in 2015, doubling their 2013 sales volume. Cryptomarkets represent an innovation in drug supply

and have “profound implications” for global drug markets according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but their influence on the overall

harms associated with illicit drug use is unknown. This project seeks to redress this significant gap, and inform policy makers about the nature and extent of

health outcomes from drug cryptomarkets, globally and specifically for Australians. For the first time, we apply MacCoun and Reuter’s framework of net

harm to assess the health outcomes of cryptomarkets using anonymous self-report data, archival monitoring and forensic profiling. Our team has produced

most of the seminal work in this emerging field. Now is the right time to conduct this program of research, while policy responses to cryptomarkets are yet to

be fully formulated, and so that policy can be evidence-based, and Australia can lead global efforts to respond to drug cryptomarkets.