The expansion of opioid trade on darknet marketplaces has raised serious concerns among United States Senators.
The issue was recently tabled in one of the US Senate subcommittees, as representatives of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pointed out the drug trafficking problem occurring across the country.
Derek Benner, the acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations (HIS)’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement division, said that the smuggling of opioids notes a sharp increase after his agency seized more than 2,400 pounds of fentanyl last year.
The numbers are worrying especially compared to 2015, when the volume of fentanyl confiscated by HSI was notably less, around 69 pounds total.
Benner pointed out the strategy that’s being used in order to deal with this threat. According to him, the investigation division will target every level of the supply chain, including illicit markets on the dark web.
The payment mechanisms used by both buyers and sellers are also being targeted.
Moreover, approximately 2,100 law enforcement officers have been trained in targeting drug trafficking occurring on the dark web, Benner said during the Senate subcommittee meeting.
Drug trafficking has reached a record number in the last year.
Fentanyl is usually used as an adulterant, often mixed with heroin or pressed into counterfeit prescription pills, and can easily result in overdose or other serious health consequences.
Mexican Border as the Main Location for Illicit Smuggling
The drugs, originally manufactured in Mexico or China, are being smuggled into the U.S. mostly through Mexican borders.
Todd Owen, the executive assistant commissioner with the Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations, pointed out that more than 545,000 pounds of narcotics have been confiscated on the borders and waterways since the beginning of this fiscal year.
And while most of this illicit smuggling happens on the southwest Mexican border, fentanyl and other similar synthetic opioids are also being transferred via international mail and express courier services as well.
According to Owen, this poses a significant challenge to them.
The illegal narcotics are being shifted in vehicles, body carriers, or even through a mail system.
The US Is Facing a Drug Epidemic
Increasingly, drug trafficking organizations are using encrypted technology and social media platforms to communicate, making it more difficult for drug enforcement agencies to track their criminal activities.
Despite the efforts of the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies, drug trafficking continues to evolve, changing the drug landscape in the country.
According to a report from the DEA, drug poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the U.S.
The numbers are higher than ever before, outnumbering the fatalities caused by firearms, car crashes, suicide, and homicide.
Over the last decade, a new threat called “tripartite opioid threat” (controlled prescription drugs, fentanyl, and heroin) has risen to an epidemic level.
In 2014, more than 100 people died on a daily basis due to drug poisoning.
The U.S. Is Working Toward a Solution
The Customs and Border Protection, with the support of Congress, has made serious improvements in their detection and interdiction technology and targeting capabilities, explained Owen in his testimony on the U.S. Senate subcommittee.
The agencies working on this problem are now in the process of hiring new agents and developing suitable technology that will be used in order to identify individuals involved in drug trafficking.
With the appropriation bill that was passed by Congress in March 2018, additional funding will be allocated for addressing issues of this caliber, including the opioid epidemic.