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The threat posed by the darknet drugs market

Drugs traded via online darknet markets are underlining the complex trans-national nature of organised crime in the European Union. To help better understand how the darknet market functions, and highlight and respond to the threat, the EU drugs agency the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol - the European police agency - has published a new report, “Drugs and the darknet: perspectives for enforcement, research and policy.”

Offering an EU-focused analysis of drug supply on darknet markets and law-enforcement perspectives, the report will provide information of interest to substance misuse workers, Probation Officers and those in youth offending jobs as they liaise with clients impacted by drug addiction and drug-related crime.

Threat posed by the darknet

Darknet markets, also known as cryptomarkets, provide anonymous platforms for trading illicit goods and services, though an estimated two-thirds of items offered are drug-related. While darknet drug sales are “modest” compared to the wider market, the market is growing, with Germany, the Netherlands and the UK the countries most affected.

The report details the development of decentralised darknet networks and new parcel delivery and collection systems. It suggests market disruption should form part of a broader, more integrated, set of measures to address the drug trade in the darknet ecosystem with special darknet investigation teams established.

EU response to the darknet drug trade

In launching the report Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship said: “Over the last decade, illegal online markets have changed how drugs are bought and sold. Criminal activity on the darknet has become more innovative and more difficult to predict.” Europol Executive Director Rob Wainwright pointed to the “takedown” in July 2017 of Alphabay and Hansa, two of the largest darknet markets, as an example of how law enforcement can disrupt this environment.

EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel noted: “In just a few clicks, buyers can purchase almost any type of drug on the darknet whether synthetic drugs, cannabis, cocaine, heroin or a range of new psychoactive substances. This poses a growing threat to the health and security of citizens and communities across the EU. The new insights provided by this joint analysis make an important contribution to informing and preparing Europe’s response to this threat.”

Enhanced monitoring is crucial

The report says that the dynamic nature of online markets, with their ability to evolve to counter threats and exploit new opportunities, means that enhanced monitoring capacity in this area is crucial to ensure that responses keep pace with developments. The analysis and recommendations presented in the report is intended to provide a policy-orientated review to facilitate discussions at EU level on how to respond to the phenomenon.
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