Darknet-hosted drug markets (‘cryptomarkets’) are an established model of illicit drug distribution which makes use of specialised online hosting and payment systems to link buyers and sellers remotely. Cryptomarkets appear to professionalise, gentrify and integrate drug markets. Therefore, they can be hypothesised to have effects on drug availability by allowing purchases by people who use drugs (PWUD) outside of face-to-face networks that have typified drug distribution. They may attract new buyers and may change use patterns by offering a greater range of higher-potency drugs. This paper examines the research on cryptomarkets’ potential impacts on drug availability.
1. Cryptomarkets tend to address established PWUD who mainly already have access to existing distribution systems. Their greatest impact may be on what is available and the quantities available, and not the overall ease of access.
2. Cryptomarkets may provide new data sources which can inform our understanding of drug markets.
3. Cryptomarkets may define PWUD as consumers and contribute to reshaping their identities around principles of self-directed, informed consumption.
4. In terms of size, cryptomarkets are currently smaller than other modes of digital drug distribution such as through social media and messaging apps and should be seen as a specialist subset of that genre.
5. Users of cryptomarkets often integrate drug-purchase and consumption repertoires across multiple sites, online and offline, and cryptomarkets can be one element.
Summary: The cryptomarkets are of interest partly because they alter the practical calculus around drug diffusion and partly because they contribute to the formation of digitally enabled drug use which emphasises a consumer relationship between buyer and seller.
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