Popular Narcotics across Illicit Online Communities and Marketplaces
By Ian Gray and Evan Kohlmann
Over the past 100 days, Flashpoint analysts have observed unusual patterns in the discussions and sale of various narcotics on encrypted Internet chat rooms, password-protected forums, and illicit online marketplaces. Due to high amount of recent turnover in traditional cybercrime marketplaces, analysts also included communication hubs in their study that are hosted on Telegram, Discord, and elsewhere–which can offer important new alternative venues for the sale of illicit narcotics.
While there has been intense law enforcement focus on the online sale of heroin and fentanyl, it would appear that more common designer and recreational drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, A-PVP (a.k.a. “bath salts”, “flakka”), and LSD take up a far greater proportion of these criminal discussions. Mentions of cocaine alone across a variety of language sets–including both English and Russian–dwarf those of both heroin and fentanyl combined by nearly 5 times.
Amphetamines–such as mephedrone and methamphetamine–are slightly less popular than the above categories, but nonetheless still have a robust presence across cybercrime communication channels. This appears to be particularly true for online actors based in Russia, Ukraine, and other areas of Eastern Europe.
Fentanyl is not commonly advertised or openly offered by name for sale by English-speaking criminal actors. The term “fentanyl” appears most frequently in advertisements on English-language illicit online communities when a given actor is specifically insisting that a heroin product for sale is “not fentanyl.” For cybercrime marketplace buyers, it appears to be rather difficult to determine what products are actually heroin versus those that are secretly made from fentanyl.
To conduct their analysis, Flashpoint researchers conducted various keyword searches within our proprietary data holdings for more than 1100 different aliases for narcotics in a variety of different languages. Since these are physical goods–and most of these materials ship domestically to local buyers–the popularity of particular narcotics can sometimes vary by geographic location.