Sure - Canadian Substance Use Resource and Knowledge Exchange Centre

Published: March 28, 2022

By: Matthew Bonn

Everyone always thinks that the majority of drug buying online happens on the dark web. Even when I say dark web, a lot of people have no idea what I am talking about. As defined by Merriam-Webster, the dark web is the set of web pages on the World Wide Web that cannot be indexed by search engines, and are not viewable in a standard Web browser. This means that to browse the dark web you require a very specific type of browser that is no different than Google or Firefox, just a browser for the dark which is called an Onion Browser because there are so many layers to the dark web, which you need a Virtual Private Network to access. About 10 years ago the dark web was where everyone online bought their drugs, but the online game has changed, mainly for the better.

Don’t get me wrong, any anonymous buying can be risky, if you are using dark web markets as a last resource try and have at least one knowledgeable drug user that can easily navigate! In the absence of safe supply, there are all kinds of ways we can keep each other safe in a Digital Health era, such as sharing sources and Virtual Spotting. One of the first stories about drug users innovating a solution to not using alone by spotting one another remotely, came out almost as quickly as the pandemic. In addition to these new virtual innovations, the emergence of more secure methods for obtaining drugs online has enhanced the ability of people who use drugs to do so safely.

The majority of online drug purchases and sales now happen via encrypted messenger apps such as Telegram, What’s App, Signal, or another handful of these apps that have popped up and become extremely popular over the last few years. Essentially they are a drug dealer's dream, as they only have to deal with potential buyers via a pseudonym  with whom they can build trust without getting to actually know the person. Additionally, they receive  their money by cryptocurrency in a timely manner. And if the buyer is lucky,  they may get a tracking number for their package for their peace of mind.

In places like London and Moscow they even market their apps via graffiti and other open air markets to get people more familiar with using encrypted apps as a preferred method of engaging in their drug buying business. It works, too. I personally know a few people who have completely switched all their businesses online with cryptocurrency and a tracking number, as these provide peace of mind that they will receive their product. Essentially, customers never have to meet drug dealers again and vice versa, which reduces risks for both parties.

As Nova Scotia’s Fentanyl, Benzodiazepines, and Cocaine supply grow, the question is, Where does it all come from, especially in the middle of the pandemic? I recently started to buy all my drugs online and I couldn’t have asked for a better set up. I can get drugs delivered to one of many safe locations and I don’t have to deal with all the shadiness of street buying. Now some people may automatically think I am talking about the Dark Web but I’m really just talking about one or two encrypted apps which allow me to get any and all drugs I ask for all at my fingertips.

I have been waiting for this for so long, and I have finally found the holy grail of vendors.

A lot of people who use drugs, get right cautious when you start talking to them about buying drugs online and yes maybe they should be, but it can’t be any riskier than buying drugs in an open-air drug market. We should start learning from some of the harm reduction buying methods that originally started online through the Dark Web to make drug buying less dangerous. The use of drug forums and escrow markets both ensure the seller and buyer a fulsome experience, which as reported in Reuters can be done by anyone, and the further the distance between buyer and seller the less chance of informants or moles within their operation.

Now trust me, I am not encouraging a bunch of people to stop the good things they have going but this was a huge change in my life which empowered me to buy safe drugs online with virtually no risk. People just have to continuously change where they get drugs sent and the best part about it is that, some of the ethical harm reduction practices are used in this new app-based buying market.

I have had people return orders, because it wasn’t a top-notch order. It’s like a Yelp service for buying drugs, and it happens all over Canada, as well as internationally.

But remember…

  1. Do not use alone; test your drugs; & carry lots of naloxone
  2. Additionally, look at some of the new peer-reviewed literature on “Developing a digital health strategy for people who use drugs: Lessons from COVID-19” which I was honoured to co-author.

Anything we can do to keep our communities safe in the midst of this deadly syndemic, we must, and we can’t let any bureaucratic policies or egos get in the way of these technological lifesaving services.

The views expressed in SURE Blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Public Health Association or Health Canada.