The rise and challenge of dark net drug markets

Julia Buxton, Tim Bingham

Research output: Book/ReportOther reportpeer-review


Key Points
• Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the sale of a variety of illicit substances
on Dark Net drug markets, with on line sales projected to increase exponentially due to
expanding internet availability, evolving technologies and the profusion of social media.
• This new form of retail market poses a major challenge to not only law enforcement
agencies but also the UN international drug control system and related legal structures
within which these agencies operate.
• For vendors and purchasers who use the sophisticated, user friendly and increasingly
secure Dark Net sites, hidden markets present a safer environment for drug transactions
and they reduce the multiple risks (coercion, violence, arrest, exposure to other drugs)
associated with ‘street’ sales.
• Research demonstrates that anonymised user forums and online chat rooms encourage and
facilitate information sharing about drug purchases and drug effects, representing a novel
form of harm reduction for drug users and an entry point for drug support services.
• Experience to date shows that enforcement efforts through surveillance, hacking and
other forms of interdiction may be successful in closing down a particular site, but at the
cost of proliferating hidden drug markets and incentivising technological innovation.
• Given an acknowledged lack of technical capacity, legal constraints and poor international
enforcement coordination, Dark Net interdiction efforts should prioritise high-end crimes
such as child sexual exploitation, cyber terrorism and weapons trafficking, and work with
self-regulating, ‘ethical’ drug sites to enhance understanding of high-level criminality on
the Dark Net.
• The 2016 UN General Assembly Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem is a timely
opportunity to discuss reform of the UN drug control treaty system to better deal with the
challenges of the increasingly complex illicit drug market in the twenty-first century.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationSwansea
PublisherGlobal Drug Policy Observatory
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)ISSN 2054-1910
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Business
  • Drug market
  • Commerce
  • Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)


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