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Detecting Fentanyl and Major Players in Darknet Drug Markets by Analyzing Drug Networks and Developing a Threat Assessment Tool

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2019, $598,637)

The effective disruption of the trafficking of fentanyl and its analogues requires (a) a profound understanding of the nature and extent of its sale and purchase on dark markets and (b) a tool that can provide criminal justice agents with insights into the networks, structures, and major players in this ever-changing market. While extant studies have focused on the number of drug listings and quality of various drugs, this research project focuses on the buyers and sellers (or vendors) of fentanyl. In Phase 1 of this research project, researchers will conduct a content-analysis of select Darknet sites to identify the structure of and interactions within drug networks. Then they will utilize social network analysis (SNA) to identify and map the listings, size, and structure of drug markets and networks, relationships between actors within markets and networks, and the power and trustworthiness of sellers within these markets. This mapping enables the identification of key players in drug markets and networks and helps criminal justice agents concentrate their efforts on actors who are considered “powerful” and/or “trustworthy” online. Building on the SNA of Phase 1, which provides a snapshot of current key actors, structures, and interactions within drug markets and networks, this research project will develop a threat assessment tool in Phase 2. By identifying, collecting, combining, and parsing data from dark market sites, this tool will be able to proactively find listings of fentanyl on Darknet sites and provide a threat assessment index score for sellers in these drug networks based on their “power” and “trustworthiness” in these networks. It will also provide information on the geographical location and methods of operation of the buyers and sellers, as well as the quantity and quality of drugs sold, among other things. This tool can reduce the amount of time, and human, technical, and financial resources needed to detect listings of fentanyl and the buyers and sellers of these drugs, and identify the structure of and interactions within drug markets and networks. Accordingly, this research can be used to enhance the investigative and intelligence capabilities of criminal justice agents.

"Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law," and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: September 13, 2019