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'Many have sinister side effects': How gardaí tackle the sale of drugs on the Dark Web

Gardaí say the use of electronic currencies and encryption tools make it difficult to identify vendors of track money.

AS GARDAÍ ACROSS the country work to combat drug dealing on Ireland’s streets, they are faced with another, perhaps more overwhelming challenge – preventing the buying and selling of drugs online.

Street dealers, and those who buy from them, can be more easily identified and tracked than in the ever-changing online marketplace.

The online trade of drugs is a “trend that has developed significantly” in recent years, according to Brian Roberts, a Detective Sergeant in the Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. He said it brings unique challenges, not just for gardaí but for law enforcement all across the world.

“Drugs are indeed sold on the open internet, but the real challenge stems from the multi million euro global drug trade on ‘Darknet’ market places. Darknets are used for the sale of many illegal commodities and services including firearms and child pornography, but the biggest trade is in drugs, this can be pharmaceutical drugs,” Roberts explained.

The drugs that are sold online can either be those that have been around for many years, like cannabis, cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, LSD and MDMA or new psychoactive substances.


Findings released by the National Student Drugs Survey last year show that preferences of young users are shifting. Almost one in five respondents had used the so-called ‘dark web’ to anonymously purchase drugs online.

Users on Darknet sites can see how products are rated by others and the prices are often lower than those on the street.

Speaking to last year, Tim Bingham of the Irish Needle Exchange said the dark web can be “a lot safer for users” as it removes the threat of physical violence, and because of this rating system.

Although illegal substances can never be guaranteed it is generally thought that the quality of products sold on the dark web is generally higher.

This was disputed by Sergeant Roberts, however, who said there is evidence a “great many of these substances have very sinister side and after effects”. Around 600 new substances are currently being monitored by the EMCDDA (European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction).

Pharmaceutical drugs are also appearing on the illicit drug market and he said many of these are counterfeit but appear just like the genuine product.

We have found that the dosage and ingredients in these drugs is often not what an end user believes it should be.

Modern era of drug dealing

These sites are accessed through legitimate encryption tools such as TOR (The Onion Router) and payment is made by electronic currency, or crypto currency, such as Bitcoin, which is currently valued at €700 per BTC.

“This makes it very difficult to track monies or indeed to identify vendors, although much success has already been achieved against hosts of Darknet market places and vendors alike,” commented the detective sergeant.

An Garda Síochána continuously monitors open internet and Darknet sources in drug investigations both domestically and internationally in cooperation with Europol, Interpol and worldwide law enforcement agencies.

“International law enforcement operations are continuing to try to tackle these online platforms, which are regarded as the modern era of drug dealing,” he added.

Read: ‘People die in toilets, people die in urine-soaked stairwells’>

Read: ‘One family lost four out of five children to drug addiction’>

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