Opioids and the 'darknet'

Credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus

In 5 seconds

A Q&A with criminologist David Décary-Hétu, co-author of a new international study on the rising proportion of prescription opioids that are available illicitly online.

David Décary-Hétu

Credit: Amélie Philibert

The market share of prescription opioids through the so-called 'darknet' has increased since the U.S. government tightened regulations for how these drugs are dispensed legally in pharmacies, researchers in Australia, the U.K. and Canada say in a new study.
Université de Montréal criminologist David Décary-Hétu co-authored the paper on the effects of restrictions on hydrocodone combination products (HCP). It was published June 14 in The BMJ with colleagues at Swinburne University, University of Kent and University of Manchester.

We asked him about why the research was done, what it found, and what's next.

What's the background for this study?

In 2014, the U.S. brought in a change to its drug scheduling system in how opioids are prescribed. At the same time, the proportion of sales of prescription opioids on online illicit markets increased compared to other drugs like cannabis. We wanted to see if there was a link.

What's new in this study?

We knew that prescription opioids could be bought illegally on the internet. What our study shows is that, starting with the regulatory change in 2014, illicit online sales seemed to increase in the U.S. but not elsewhere, which leads us to suspect the change had a direct effect.

What did you contribute to this study?

I've been collecting data from online illicit markets for a number of years. Here, I was responsible for collecting all of the data and helping write up the paper with my colleagues, including the introduction and the discussion.

What's the situation here in Canada regarding opioid sales?

Canada is a big supplier of prescriptions online, especially in illicit markets. Canada has been involved in cannabis sales, ecstasy sales and sales of prescriptions, and we see exactly the same thing on the darknet.

What will you be studying next?

We'll be looking at the different types of products being sold on cryptomarkets. There's a wide array out there, especially in prescriptions. It'll be interesting to see how these develop over time, as well as the impact of Canada's legalization of cannabis.

When will you be publishing those results?

Over the next few months, multiple times.

To learn more

Read the communiqué by Swinburne University and an editorial in The BMJ.

Media contact

On the same subject

research criminology drugs