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How accurate are drug cryptomarket listings by content, weight, purity and repeat purchase?

Monica J. Barratt (Social Equity Research Centre and Digital Ethnography Research Centre, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia and National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW, Sydney, Australia)
Ross Coomber (Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)
Michala Kowalski (Drug Policy Modelling Program, Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Judith Aldridge (Department of Criminology, The University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)
Rasmus Munksgaard (Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg Universitet, Aalborg, Denmark)
Jason Ferris (Centre for Health Services Research, The University of Queensland, Herston, Australia)
Aili Malm (School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Management, California State University Long Beach, Long Beach, California, USA)
James Martin (School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
David Décary-Hétu (School of Criminology, Universite de Montreal, Montreal, Canada)

Drugs, Habits and Social Policy

ISSN: 2752-6739

Article publication date: 21 March 2024

Issue publication date: 14 May 2024

165

Abstract

Purpose

Drug cryptomarkets increase information available to market actors, which should reduce information asymmetry and increase market efficiency. This study aims to determine whether cryptomarket listings accurately represent the advertised substance, weight or number and purity, and whether there are differences in products purchased from the same listing multiple times.

Design/methodology/approach

Law enforcement drug purchases – predominantly cocaine, methamphetamine, MDMA and heroin – from Australian cryptomarket vendors (n = 38 in 2016/2017) were chemically analysed and matched with cryptomarket listings (n = 23). Descriptive and comparative analyses were conducted.

Findings

Almost all samples contained the advertised substance. In most of these cases, drugs were either supplied as-advertised-weight or number, or overweight or number. All listings that quantified purity overestimated the actual purity. There was no consistent relationship between advertised purity terms and actual purity. Across the six listings purchased from multiple times, repeat purchases from the same listing varied in purity, sometimes drastically, with wide variation detected on listings purchased from only one month apart.

Research limitations/implications

In this data set, cryptomarket listings were mostly accurate, but the system was far from perfect, with purity overestimated. A newer, larger, globally representative sample should be obtained to test the applicability of these findings to currently operating cryptomarkets.

Originality/value

This paper reports on the largest data set of forensic analysis of drug samples obtained from cryptomarkets, where data about advertised drug strength/dose were obtained.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the AFP, and in particular, Mark Tahtouh and Adrian De Grazia, for curating and providing the forensic data used in this project. This project was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1122200). The AFP and funders played no further part in the research process, and the views expressed in this paper should not be seen as representative of the views of these agencies.

Funding: This project was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (APP1122200).

Declarations: None to declare.

Citation

Barratt, M.J., Coomber, R., Kowalski, M., Aldridge, J., Munksgaard, R., Ferris, J., Malm, A., Martin, J. and Décary-Hétu, D. (2024), "How accurate are drug cryptomarket listings by content, weight, purity and repeat purchase?", Drugs, Habits and Social Policy, Vol. 25 No. 1, pp. 6-18. https://doi.org/10.1108/DHS-11-2023-0043

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2024, Emerald Publishing Limited

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