Carfentanil on the darknet : Potential scam or alarming public health threat?
Background: In an age of global insecurity, highly potent synthetic drugs have become a major public health issue. Their online advertisement and sale are facilitated by surface web, darknet markets and social media fuelling substance abuse and addiction, as well as various types of new criminal activities and their growth in sophistication. This study presents a systematic analysis of the darknet sale of one of the most potent synthetic opioids: Carfentanil. With an equianalgesic potency of 10.000 times a unit of morphine, its toxicity is comparable to traditional nerve agents, and it has been previously used as a chemical weapon, causing human fatalities. Methods: Digital trace data was collected retrospectively from all the darknet marketplaces, which have been active in the past five years. Data on vendors offering Carfentanil on Agartha, Empire and Yakuza marketplaces were analysed with regard to items sold and sellers’ features as these were the only active markets at the time of search. Searches were carried out in the English language only. Results: 63 Cartfentanil vendors operating on 19 darknet marketplaces were identified. Contacts and payments were facilitated with end-to-end encryption messaging mobile applications and content-expiring messages. Although it is known that Agartha is a scam market, and no operative sellers were found on Yakuza, several sellers promoting Carfentanil sales were active in the Empire marketplace with a number of transaction ranging from 4 to 1223. Conclusion: The availability of highly potent drugs such as Carfentanil on the darknet requires the urgent development of novel scientific methods and tools able to monitor and to predict such new threats, while informing policymaking and protecting the health and the security of citizens.