Federal and local police across the country are battling an increasingly popular way drug addicts are obtaining illegal substances.
Users can go online using computers or cell phones and have drugs shipped to their front door or an abandoned house.
Using sophisticated software, the process is kept anonymous between the buyer and seller.
“I can think of a particular patient who was actually interested in getting his master’s degree,” said Amy Lowe, an addiction counselor at Arapahoe House in Denver. “He was in his early 30s.”
Lowe says the internet enables people who otherwise might have decided not to buy drugs.
“The break point was having to go on the streets and be that guy who is buying from a dealer until he heard from a friend about being able to order them online,” she said.
The process is simple. To not encourage the process, this article will not detail the steps required. Information is easily obtainable for those who want it, Lowe says.
Cyber security experts say how to covertly buy illegal substances is common knowledge on the dark web, a section of the internet accessed using special software, where drug purchases take place.
“Twenty minutes is all it would take someone to buy drugs online,” said Kirby Plessas, a dark web expert and founder of Plessas Experts Network.
Plessas says a purchaser can easily find cocaine, heroine, marijuana and other drugs. The search process works similarly to Google’s search.
“Top result: $1,700 for 1,000 extract pills coming from the Netherlands,” she said, pointing to her computer screen
Each seller is ranked.
“Kind of like your Amazon suggested buyers,” Plessas says.
There’s a system to pay for the drugs too, using Bitcoins, a virtual currency. In nearly every major city, you’ll find Bitcoin ATMs that let you load cash and later use the online currency to pay for drugs.
Once the drugs are paid for, dealers who are often in China or India, sometimes ship through regular mail. They hide it in magazines to conceal the drugs, Plessas says.
The Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration for the Denver Field Division, Barbara Roach, says occasionally homeowners whose houses the drugs are shipped to, don’t even know drugs have been mailed there.
“Sometimes it’s dropped off at somebody’s house and the owner doesn’t even know because the buyer is waiting to grab the package when it arrives,” Roach said. “This is extremely serious.”
Small amounts of drugs bought or sold can go unnoticed by police. The United States Postal Service does not scan every letter and package mailed.
Despite that Roach says federal investigators are making progress to slow online drug purchases.
“We are always finding new ways of what their techniques are. The problem is once we figure out their techniques, they’re usually slightly altering it,” she said.
Numbers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that in processing inbound international mail, agents seized contraband narcotics almost 27,000 times in fiscal year 2016. It weighed, in total, more than 65,000 kilograms.
Lowe says part of the solution is getting parents to educate themselves about online drug buying.
“It’s a myth that if we talk about it, we’re planting seeds. That’s not true,” Lowe said. “If your communication style is one of talking about things, you want to empower your kids to make good decisions.”
She also suggests parents watch for mood swings that are different from those a typical teenager might exhibit.
“There's a difference between chronic defensiveness that tells you something is up versus a mood swing that's related to a pimple or something. You’ll know,” she said. “You'll see a much longer-term moodiness that will be obvious.”