Online illegal drug sales boom despite Silk Road closure: Reports Global Drug Survey

More people are buying recreational drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine online, partly because it is much cheaper than buying them on the street, where the price of drugs in Australia is more than double the global average.

You’ve still got immensely expensive drugs in Australia.

Survey founder Adam Winstock

An international survey on drug habits has detected a rapid increase over the past six years in the number of people who buy their drugs online using sites such as Silk Road, whose founder was jailed for life last month.

Ecstasy is far cheaper to buy online than on the street in Australia, the survey found image
Ecstasy is far cheaper to buy online than on the street in Australia, the survey found. Photo: Viki YemettasThe Global Drug Survey 2015, which was conducted in partnership with global media organisations including Fairfax Media, polled 102,000 people from 50 countries, including 4030 from Australia, about their patterns of drug use.
AdvertisementIn 2009 only 5 per cent of respondents to the survey had bought drugs online, while in the latest survey a quarter had done so, including nearly 10 per cent of Australian respondents.Survey founder Adam Winstock, a British addictions psychiatrist, said the availability of drugs online had not led to an increase in the number of people using recreational drugs, but rather shifted a portion of users to a new marketplace.

“The reason people are using the internet is really dissatisfaction with the existing drug markets,” Dr Winstock said.

“You’ve still got immensely expensive drugs in Australia and to be honest I’m amazed that you don’t have a more thriving research chemicals market.”

Research chemicals, also known as novel psychoactive substances or “legal highs”, are newly produced chemicals that have not been regulated yet – although they are illegal in NSW and Queensland.

world prices of drugs chart image

Only 4.5 per cent of Australians – similar to the global average – reported buying them in the past 12 months, mostly in the form of herbal smoking mixtures.

The price of ecstasy pills in Australia ($26 each) was double the global average and the price of cocaine ($320 a gram) was more than double.

Other findings include:

  • The use of nitrous oxide in Australia had increased from 4.8 to 7.25 per cent of respondents.
  • Australians were among the biggest users of prescription drugs, and although most of them were not being abused, only 35 per cent of people recalled discussing the possibility of addiction with their doctors.
  • Although the prevalence of synthetic cannabis use was low (1.7 per cent), those who used it were more likely to seek emergency treatment than those using herbal cannabis, alcohol, cocaine, research chemicals, ecstasy (also known as MDMA) or ketamine.
  • After a three-year period of dissatisfaction with ecstasy  from 2007, the drug had returned resoundingly to the party circuit, with powder more popular than pills.

The survey has an inherent bias, in that respondents are more likely to be drug users, and some results might be skewed because the Australian contingent was older.

The mean age of respondents was 29, while the typical Australian respondent was 37, tertiary educated and working full-time in an urban area.

Dr Winstock said the closure of the internet drug marketplace Silk Road nearly two years ago had not affected the online drug trade, with the number of deals tripling from 15,000 to 45,000 over the past 24 months.

A 25-year-old former drug dealer, who has provided his identity to Fairfax Media, said he used Silk Road regularly before it was shut down, buying cocaine and ecstasy.

The drugs, which are traded in bitcoin, were shipped from Britain and were cheaper and better quality than anything available in Sydney, he said.

Ecstasy that he could buy online for $80 a gram was good enough to sell in Australia for $450 a gram, he said.

He was never afraid of getting caught.

“I’m such a small fish. There was security in obscurity,” he said.

The man no longer used drugs for health and lifestyle reasons.

The Global Drug Survey researchers have warned that drugs are not risk free and have designed a users’ guide to taking drugs more safely, which has been downloaded 80,000 times.

Henry Sapiecha

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