The Shifting Drug Market and the Dark Web
WENY – Following the invention of the internet, came the invention of the dark web, a section of the World Wide Web that can only be accessed using special software which allows users and operators to remain untraceable. The dark web allows users to purchase illegal drugs, guns, people's credit card information, and even humans - right from your own home.
Where previously most drug users would be forced to meet in person to make a transaction, people can now buy illicit substances online. Bryon Harlow (identity withheld), said he could try any drugs he wanted, ordering them straight from his college apartment.
“I had met some friends, I found some other things, I tried them out and I figured I had this resource [the dark web], where I could get all this different stuff,” he explained.
Harlow had moved away from home for the first time to attend college. Like many other college students, he said was trying to find himself. He found out early in his college career how to navigate the dark web, and eventually he said that's what ended up defining him throughout his college experience.
"Before I went to college, the only drugs I had ever done was probably like smoking weed and like drinking every once in a while,” said Harlow. “I got to college, I had met some friends, I found some other things, I tried them out and I figured I had this resource where I could get all this different stuff.”
Every time Harlow ordered drugs from the dark web, he would test them making sure they were not laced with anything else. At one point, Harlow had ordered Oxycodone, only to learn it had been fentanyl doctored to look like the pills he hard ordered. He said out of curiosity, he tried it anyway.
“Fentanyl feels very dirty and leaves you with a lot more lasting side effects,” said Harlow. “For me, negative mental stuff, and I just did not want to mess with that anymore.”
Harlow did not become addicted to fentanyl and did not overdose from the experience. But Wilson Compton, a scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse said the same can not be said for many Americans.
“It has been extraordinary the number of increasing deaths related to fentanyl over the last few years,” said Compton.
Compton said at one time he was optimistic that the number of overdose deaths caused by fentanyl would slow, but for the past forty years, those numbers have been steadily increasing. On May 11th, the CDC announced that more than 107,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses in the year 2021 and two thirds of those deaths were from fentanyl or other opioid-related substances.
The deaths have been increasing in numerous ways; some ingest what they believe to be heroin but turns out to be fentanyl and due to its high potency it results in death. Many drugs are also coming from drug dealers who are using things like fentanyl to cut (cutting is using a chemical to dilute recreational drugs with something less expensive) drugs like cocaine and Molly ultimately resulting in overdoses.
“So something that is sold as a painkiller, as a sedative, as an anti-anxiety drug, as a pill you just use to get high, may in fact not contain what people think it contains but may contain fentanyl,” said Compton.
Fentanyl is estimated to be eighty times as potent as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin. Compton said the dangers that come with fentanyl are not unique to that drug; drugs like Oxycodone, heroin, and Demerol all have the ability to cause those same side effects.
“All of the opioid drugs can produce the same horrible outcome of an overdose death produced by respiratory depression,” explained Compton.
Fentanyl can be manufactured in laboratories so it doesn't require the opium poppy and the agriculture needed to harvest that opium, which has led to its widespread abuse.
When an opioid overdose occurs, the substance user goes through Respiratory Depression; characterized by slow and ineffective breathing. During hyperventilation, the body can not adequately remove carbon dioxide and results in an overdose in many cases.
“It is so potent that a very small quantity can poison someone, can kill someone, it is not a different death that we see with heroin or Oxycodone but the potency means that a much smaller quantity can produce that overdose and that respiratory depression,” said Compton.
Compton said potency also plays a part in drug smuggling because a very small quantity can produce a large quantity of products that can be sold on the street for a lot of profit.
“When people wonder why is it so hard for addicts to change their behavior, I'd like to remind people how hard it is to change any of our behaviors,” said Compton.
Compton asked that people try not to judge those struggling with substance abuse and said that drug addiction is similar to trying to give up sweets or trying to stop drinking coffee.
“While there are unique aspects to addiction to substances, some of the behaviors are inherent in the way that we form memories to pleasurable activities and pleasurable times in our life,” said Compton.
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction you can contact:
The Southern Tier Aids Program:
Elmira Location: 410 West Church Street
Elmira, New York 14901
Ithaca Location: 307 W. State Street
Ithaca, New York 14850