The internet poses great risks for adolescents and young adults. As a parent, you may be particularly aware of cyberbullies. You may acknowledge the risk of older strangers coming into contact with your teen online. Like many parents, you may choose to stay up-to-date with your son or daughter’s postings on social media, or even limit his or her browser time at night. While there are many precautions adults can take on cybersecurity today, there is one cyber threat we often forget about, one that still endangers our growing youth day in and day out: the illicit online drug market.
It may be unimaginable to think that your teen could be buying drugs online. It is difficult to come to terms that there is even an opportunity for him or her to do so. Yet according to a recent study, the online drug market is booming. There are well over 1,000 websites on the “darkweb” (the anonymous online drug market), all of which deliver drugs directly to your doorstep. The market is so huge, in fact, that online drug sales average at about $300,000 - $500,000 per day, meaning that thousands of people are purchasing illegal substances through the internet on a regular basis. These are people that do not have a supplier or personal drug connections (likely a result of their young age), that may not have a prescription, or simply do not want to meet a drug dealer in person. The internet allows teens to buy drugs easily and receive them efficiently, without ever having to encounter the dangers a person would through a face-to-face sale.
According to the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse, one in five teens have already tried prescription drugs illegally. The majority, an alarming 76 percent of these teenagers, buy these prescription pills illegally through smugglers, forged prescriptions, and online pharmacies. Buying drugs online is that easy.
What parents need to know is that a child can buy prescription drugs online without ever showing proof of age or a patient prescription. All one needs is a credit card, a computer, and an address to receive the drugs.
In a recent ABC News interview, Drug Enforcement Administration agent Tim Stover explained, "It's all done from the comfort of your home… [and] the anonymity of the Internet.” Like behind-the-screen drug dealers, teens can easily cover up their tracks.
Great efforts have been made by federal officials to shut down major online marketplaces. They managed to bust the most booming darknet online drug market, Silk Road, just two years ago, but these drug busts are far and few. Darkweb sites are nearly impossible to trace through cyberspace and it takes years to disrupt their operations. The problem for DEA agents is that most illegal online drug markets are temporary and fleeting. They appear, make a sufficient amount of money through online drug sales, and then shut down the moment the government catches on. They then re-open under new names, or take the money and run.
If the takedown of Silk Road taught us anything at all, it is that selling and buying drugs online is possible—and that these websites work. There are many imitators of this online drug arena, half of which derived directly from the Silk Road template. But now, the number of websites selling drugs illegally has increased exponentially. Today, there are about 9,300 websites selling drugs illegally on the darkweb.
The internet is changing the drug landscape, and more significantly, the way our younger generation is obtaining and getting hooked on drugs. More significantly, the online drug market is now thriving with sales from our youth, largely because there is no longer a fear of prescription drugs like Xanax, Oxycontin, or Adderall. Today, these drugs are seen as commonplace; they are seen as safe. Teens have no problem purchasing them illegally online. Yet they may not fully understand the risks.
Like drug of abuse, the products purchased via online drug sales are extremely dangerous. Most websites originate from foreign countries like Mexico and Ukraine. Foreign drug manufacturers are not held to American drug standards, and like any home drug laboratories, can use synthetic, chemical additives in their production process. You never know what you are buying when you buy it online. There is no regulation of these substances and there is no stamp saying they are pure.
If you believe your teen is buying drugs online, the first thing you can do is ask. Proceed to educate him or her on the risks: there are young adults fatally overdosing on illegal substances throughout the country, many of which resulting from an online sale. If you are suspicious, take a look at your teen’s online history, or look specifically for a program called “Tor.” This is the system used by drug users worldwide for anonymous web browsing. This is how the majority of drug users access the darkweb. It is an online tool that you should worry about. If you find Tor on your teen’s computer, it may be time to seek professional drug treatment.
For now, it seems that the solution lies not in destroying these sites. Drug manufacturers and dealers may always find a way around the law to distribute and sell drugs. The solution here lies in drug prevention. It is our job as educators, as parents, as a community, to decrease the demand for drugs in our teens and young adults. To learn more about how drugs can physically harm your teen, check out our infographic, the Physical Impact of Addiction. For more information on how to educate your teen, or to start a treatment plan today, call us at 877-581-1793.