On the darknet, drug buyers aren’t looking for bargains

A representation of the Cryptomarket opioid drug distribution network. Each color represents a community. Credit: Journal of Quantitative Criminology

When drug users go online for the first time to buy opioids, they aren’t looking for the widest selection or the best prices for their illicit purchases, a new study suggests.


Researchers found that first-time drug buyers who visited one marketplace on the “darknet” cared only about finding trustworthy sellers—those who would deliver what they promised and keep the buyers’ identities secret.

“When are making that first purchase, price doesn’t matter at all,” said Scott Duxbury, lead author of the study and doctoral student in sociology at The Ohio State University.

“If they come back to buy again, price matters a little, but trust remains their primary concern.”

The study also found that while most of this drug-dealing marketplace could be susceptible to crackdowns by , the core group of repeat buyers and sellers would be much harder to shut down.

“This core group could be less vulnerable than their real-world counterparts to disruption by law enforcement,” Duxbury said.

Duxbury and Dana Haynie, professor of sociology at Ohio State, conducted the first study to investigate the network structure of an encrypted online drug distribution network, examining the web of connections between buyers and sellers.

“The accessibility and ease of purchasing illegal drugs online opens up a global market where buyers and sellers are no longer constrained by locality and buyers have more options and diversity in product selection,” Haynie said.

They presented their research Aug. 12 in Montreal at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association and in a paper published recently in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology.

The researchers collected data on all transactions in a six-month period involving opioid dealers on one large drug distribution market, which they called “Cryptomarket.” This market exists on the darknet—a largely hidden part of the web that can be accessed only through Tor, software that allows anonymous transactions and communication.

All the information the researchers collected was available to anyone on Cryptomarket, including usernames for all buyers and…

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