A new report issued by LegitScript for the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies takes a hard look at the state of opioid sales on the Internet. While efforts by major online stakeholders such as Google, PayPal, and Bing have forced some illicit vendors to move to the dark web, there are still an estimated 30,000 – 35,000 illegal online pharmacies doing business on the Internet on a daily basis. The dark web is the portion of the Internet that is not accessible by the standard search engines and has a strong foundation of anonymity and privacy.
By examining the top 12 marketplaces, LegitScript was able to paint a picture of the threat these websites pose. As more Americans familiarize themselves with the necessary software to access this portion of the Internet and digital currencies, that threat will only grow. However, the anonymity of the dark web has been breached before by law enforcement, with the critical vulnerability being when the vendor ships the product to the customer. Law enforcement was able to take over the AlphaBay and Hansa markets before shutting both of them down in 2017.
LegitScript found the number of illicit online pharmacies, ones that do not require prescriptions for prescription-only medications, dispense drugs in jurisdictions that they are not licensed to, or sell drugs unapproved for sale where customers live, has held steady since they last examined this issue in 2016. An examination of paid advertisements on Google and Bing in March 2018 turned up no results from rogue pharmacies. LegitScript did find that business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) were the most prominent places that individuals could purchase fentanyl on the Internet. Illicit online pharmacies also frequently turn to social media to help promote their businesses.
While it is good news that paid advertisements for opioids are not appearing in online search results, this report should remind everyone that the only safe source online for purchasing any medication is from an NABP-approved pharmacy that has a domain name ending in .pharmacy.