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Decoding hidden darknet networks: What we learned about the illicit fentanyl trade on AlphaBay

NCJ Number
Journal of Forensic Sciences Volume: 68 Issue: 5 Dated: 2023 Pages: 1451-1469
Date Published
19 pages

This study examines the illicit fentanyl trade on the AlphaBay darknet marketplace (DNM) using content and social network analysis.


Using the AlphaBay darknet marketplace (DNM) as a case study, the authors analyzed data from the AlphaBay I2P website using, among other methods, content and social network analysis, to uncover hidden fentanyl networks, revealing the sale of fentanyl on the AlphaBay DNM despite its ban in the Global AlphaBay Rules. These findings predominantly revealed the covert sale of fentanyl on AlphaBay and predatory vendors selling illicit drugs containing fentanyl. To a lesser extent, the findings identified the overt sale of fentanyl patches on AlphaBay. Although the authors examined only one DNM, the prevalence of the covert sale of fentanyl and the presence of predatory vendors underscores the importance of research that decodes the language of vendors who surreptitiously sell fentanyl or drugs adulterated with fentanyl or other illicit substances. The results of this research can inform strategies aimed at disrupting and dismantling DNM fentanyl networks. Fentanyl is sold on darknet marketplaces (DNMs) despite bans. Predatory vendors surreptitiously sell drugs laced with fentanyl on DNMs. Content analysis can be used to uncover covert language used by fentanyl networks. Social network analysis can be used to map fentanyl networks. Darknet research can inform strategies aimed at detecting and disrupting the illicit fentanyl trade. The opioid epidemic, impacted from the proliferation of fentanyl, has added impetus to the need to detect fentanyl, sources of fentanyl, and places where fentanyl and drugs adulterated with fentanyl are available. Many darknet marketplaces (DNMs) have rules that ban fentanyl. However, it is unclear how these affect the fentanyl market. The present research highlights the next evolution of darknet marketplaces – the migration of DNMs from Tor to I2P and the methods that can be used identify fentanyl networks, irrespective of where sites are: I2P, Tor, or multihomed on I2P and Tor. (Published Abstract Provided)

Date Published: January 1, 2023