Fentanyl has been around for a long time. It is one of the most dangerous commodities in the underworld cryptocurrency economy, in fact, so dangerous that even many dark web markets have banned it. But new research shows that cryptocurrencies play a different role in the deadly opioid supply chain. A Chinese chemical manufacturer accepts cryptocurrencies as payment for the fentanyl raw materials it sells to drug operators who mass-produce drugs in countries around the world. And they offer it completely open to the public, not on the dark web.
Crypto trackers Elliptic and Chainalysis this week released a new study that provides a glimpse into the underreported role of cryptocurrencies in the global fentanyl trade: wholesale supply of raw materials to fentanyl producers around the world. Elliptic researchers found more than 90 Chinese chemical companies that sold fentanyl “precursor” chemicals and advertised their products on the open web, 90% of which accounted for Bitcoin, Tether, etc. offered to accept payments in cryptocurrencies.
Researchers at Elliptic conducted blockchain analysis to investigate network cryptocurrency addresses that companies share with prospective customers. Considering a 450% increase in transactions over the past year, the researchers estimate he has made over $27 million in transactions over the past five years at these addresses, most of which will be in 2021. It was after. Chainalysis used a proprietary methodology to estimate that figure to be even higher over the past five years at $37.8 million. But the companies say these estimates are likely just a fraction of a larger supply chain for fentanyl, fueled by cryptocurrencies, and the retail price of fentanyl produced using these precursors is It warns that it will probably be thousands of times, tens of billions of dollars.
“It’s an underestimate how much cryptocurrency Chinese companies are accepting as raw materials for the production of these drugs,” said Tom Robinson, co-founder and lead researcher at Elliptic. (Robinson did not name any companies, but said Elliptic shared its name with law enforcement.) Only small amounts of these substances are required to produce them.” Both have very high street value and can lead to huge overdoses. “
Elliptic reports that tens of millions of dollars worth of precursor sales tracked on the blockchain by the company could produce enough fentanyl to kill everyone on the planet if efficiently distributed. It is likely enough to manufacture, he said.
For more than a decade, dangerous opioids like fentanyl have been infamous for sale in dark web markets such as Silk Road and successor markets such as AlphaBay and Hydra. But in recent years, dark web markets have begun banning the drug, which is 50 times more potent than heroin. These bans are sometimes loosely enforced, but their purpose is to prevent both the harm the substance poses to customers and the associated law enforcement attention. “We knew it was very dangerous,” one dark web administrator going by the name Deathsnake told WIRED in a 2021 interview, referring to the fentanyl ban on the then-reopened Alpha Bay dark web marketplace. explained. “In places where no one knows, it’s going to be a very, very big mess.”
Despite the trend away from selling fentanyl on the dark web, four members of Congress this week reintroduced a bill called the Dark Web Prohibition Act, which specifically focused on fentanyl and introduced penalties for dark web drug dealers. made heavy. The bill would also strengthen and make permanent the Joint Opioid and Darknet Criminal Investigation Task Force, which in recent years has helped coordinate law enforcement crackdowns on hundreds of alleged darkweb drug dealers and administrators. Become.
But despite restrictions on dark web retail cryptocurrency trading in fentanyl and law enforcement cracking down on its remnants, research from Elliptic and Chainalysis suggests that cryptocurrency-based fentanyl ingredients are being wholesaled to drug cartels. , indicating that drug cartels are manufacturing drug cartels. The practice of smuggling synthetic opioids into the United States and other countries for sale in the physical world continues. In a survey of chemical labs selling precursors, Elliptic specifically mentioned shipping to customers in Mexico on several of the websites surveyed, with 17 of the labs also sold finished fentanyl and other more potent opioids.