U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed a radical resolve to target the opioid epidemic.
This followed the establishment of a three-step process to solve the nation’s drug crisis through state-sanctioned programs.
President Trump has submitted the imposition of the death penalty on drug dealers, a factor that has elicited a mix of reactions nationally.
Trump also expressed unwavering support for policies intended to advance the easy access to naloxone, a drug overdose antidote, as the first step towards “healing America.” He called for additional medical-backed therapeutic programs that seek to transform the lives of known drug addicts.
Further, he emphasized the significance of an objective media approach to tackling the drug crisis. This would be done through structured campaigns that aim to discourage youth from using drugs.
The campaigns will be likened to the “Just Say No” initiatives that emerged in the era of former U.S. President Ronald Regan, who held office in the 1980s.
Trump’s call for the death penalty of drug dealers has been received with mixed opinions among the American population.
Various public health pundits have expressed their disapproval in the move proposed by Trump. Critical commentators have said that this proposal undermines the foundations of the American spirit in the so-called “War on Drugs.” It has been likened to the “failed rhetoric” that typified the 1980s drug war.
Dr. Andrew Kolodny, a key figure in the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, opined against the proposal by dubbing it as a “step backwards.” In his view, the government will ultimately fail in its ambition to execute its way out of the drug epidemic.
The scholar believes that the death penalty is an overreach, even when it would be sensible for law enforcement agencies to crack down on fentanyl suppliers and creators of highly lethal drugs.
Dr. Guohua Li, a professor of epidemiology and anesthesiology at Columbia University, favored the application of a tolerant criminal justice system to fight drugs. In his experience, he acknowledged the complementary significance of criminal justice but maintained that public health involvement would be fundamental to achieving this goal.
Dr. Li also commented that the use of criminal justice, in exclusivity, will prove to be a costly and ineffective endeavor on all fronts.
Furthermore, Dr. Leana Wen, the Health Commissioner of Baltimore City, also made remarks on the failed “War on Drugs” in the U.S. She echoed the ideas given by her peers by condemning the criminalization of drug addiction.
In her views, it would be critical for the government, and other stakeholders, to treat addiction as a disease that can be treated. By so doing, the approach to solve the opioid crisis would be fair to those people in need of drug recovery interventions. This is necessary, owing to the known reality that most drug sellers are addicts—people often sell drugs to sustain their habits.
In this regard, imposition of the death penalty will, therefore, mean that drug addicts will form a majority of targets aimed at by the War on Drugs. Still, Dr. Wen went on to echo the need for the government to invest significant funds to tackling the epidemic.
What Role Does Dark Web Play in the Current Opioid Crisis?
The U.S. opioid epidemic has been worsening over the years.
According to statistical data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), opioid-related deaths account for 66 percent of all deaths caused by narcotics.
Interestingly, darknet markets have been responsible for the majority of opioid sales done in the U.S.
A recent U.S. Senate Report on the Opioid Crisis showed that a monumental amount of fentanyl, to the tune of millions of dollars, was peddled online in the past two years. The customer purchases occurred in 43 states across the country, with the majority of these orders originating from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida.
The Senate Subcommittee established the simplicity of obtaining fentanyl online and the application of cryptocurrencies in buying the product.
Further, they learned that fentanyl is usually shipped to the U.S. via international mail.
Understanding the Implications of Proposal on Darknet Market Activity
It would be fallacious to conclusively comment on the expected effects of Trump’s proposition without first anatomizing the principal properties of the markets.
All darknet markets are affected by particular dynamics that control the range and scope of activities partaken by buyers and sellers. This aspect extends to illicit markets that work to facilitate the exchange of goods and services across the economic divide.
Consumer behavior is fundamentally affected by various factors that determine market choices. Ideally, the convenience, pricing and quality of products are what drives most buyers to make purchases. Variations in the risk factor ultimately drives illicit drug markets.
Consequently, levels of risk determine the economic health of the markets that serve to operate under the radar of law enforcement.
Drug vendors and customers are usually pulled towards darknet markets that are characterized by low risks of detection, the occurrence of violence and a seldom exposure to scams.
Darknet markets are currently viewed as low-risk avenues for selling and buying illegal items, and this factor is bound to progress to the near and far future.
Mainly, drugs are known to account for about two-thirds of darknet activity on online marketplaces. A plethora of drug listings are readily available on the dark web, and simple clicking may access these commodities.
These markets have, therefore, established themselves as the providers of convenient services. This concerns the appropriate sales channels that foster anonymity and ease of doing business. It is thus agreeable that darknet markets present an enormous potential for expansion of the illicit drug trade.
Nevertheless, online drug sales usually fall significantly following the arrest of darknet admins or the capture of shipments destined to the U.S. Such interception amounts to bad ratings that would take a heavy toll on drug prices and availability.
Following the above analysis, it is expected that Trump’s proposed resolution will disrupt darknet market activity—darknet vendors may suffer a blow to the profitability and reputation of their businesses.
History has already proven that the closure of darknet marketplaces causes a temporary disruption in the entire market.
But is policing capable of crippling darknet markets entirely?
It is necessary to clarify the reality of this matter and unravel the mysteries surrounding law enforcement influence on darknet markets:
The Silk Road shutdown case is a great example, to begin. Then, the once-booming market was brought to the media limelight alongside other hidden markets.
U.S. politicians discussed the social effects of this marketplace and decided to take appropriate action against it.
Sometime in 2013, federal agents brought down Silk Road in an operation that would expose a rot in the online market world. With a mouth-opening turnover of $1.2 billion, the Federal Bureau of Investigation acknowledged this darknet marketplace as an ultimate go-to, one-stop shop for illicit trading.
Facts surrounding the shutdown of Silk Road by U.S. law enforcement, the capture of the market’s founder and the associated seizure of millions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoins show the ineffectiveness of law enforcement’s influence in extinguishing the darknet market flame.
The Silk Road closure caused its members to shift to other darknet markets urgently. Such crypto markets ranged from Silk Road 2 and Agora, to Sheep and Cloud-Nine.
A second police operation was then launched to target these markets.
Most of them had been active for a considerable amount of time before the famous 2014 Operation Onymous, which took them down.
The need to establish Operation Onymous, in essence, proved that closing the original Silk Road (Silk Road 1) was futile.
This premise is sufficiently backed by past research, which intimates that the effects of policing and law enforcement activity against Silk Road 1 were not adequate to scare off darknet participants.
Instead, these individuals managed to adapt accordingly, through displacement. The first aspect of displacement presented itself through movement of these subjects to new crypto markets.
The SR1 shutdown would sufficiently stimulate darknet market participants’ movement to Black Market Reloaded (BMR). BMR experienced a double-fold increase in the number of darknet vendors on the site. Sheep Market, on the other hand, registered a rise in the number of dealers for up four times.
Furthermore, a comprehensive study by Carnegie Mellon University researchers showed that Silk Road’s takedown influenced a corresponding increase in BMR sales. It is deduced that a massive portion of Silk Road sales were actively soaked up by BMR. This indicates that former Silk Road participants moved to the new darknet market.
In the authors’ writings, darknet markets are “extremely resilient” to shutdowns and fraud cases.
In a nutshell, orthodox policing interventions and coordinated law enforcement operations are not sufficient in tackling the online-sourced drug syndicates.
As proven already, President Trump’s death penalty proposal will do little to arrest the full spectrum of online drug market activities.
This reality poses a significant challenge in disembodying the moving parts of darknet drug markets. This concerns difficulties that stem from the access to server locations and the unraveling of anonymized identities belonging to criminal operations globally.
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