What Bitcoin Has To Do With The Opioid Crisis

As Bitcoin continues to grow and expand, so does the opioid crisis. The deaths are piling up, as do online sales and new merchants are continuing to pop-up. Both cryptocurrencies and the opioid crisis are extremely prevalent in our future and present and both intertwine in more ways than one. Creating an issue that is spiraling out of any authority’s control and becoming even more out of reach because of the deep, dark web.

What exactly is Bitcoin? 

For some of us, cryptocurrency is very tricky and confusing to comprehend. However, in the world of finance, Bitcoin has become extremely important and watched very closely. First introduced in 2009, Bitcoin is an anonymous cryptocurrency. This is a form of currency that is used digitally through encryption (the translation of data into a secret code). Bitcoin was invented to be untraceable, unshakeable and secretly safe for those who use it. It is digitally transferred and only exists online. Similar to something like silver or gold, it has value while it also works as a commodity, but it is its own currency. It is managed by a group of people who process transactions, which means that it is kept far away from government regulations when used and you do not need a bank to use it. Bitcoin started off insanely cheap and only started to gain value in 2013. Then, Bitcoin was large enough to hit the CME Group (the world’s leading and most diverse derivatives marketplace) and skyrocketed. This idea of an untraceable trading market is very appealing to human traffickers, drug pushers, arms dealers or anyone who operates on the illegal trading market. According to Global Financial Integrity, in 2011, this online flow of illegal activity was estimated at approximately $650 billion. Essentially, Bitcoin allowed these traffickers to anonymously buy and sell anything without the fear of being caught.

What is Fentanyl? 

These internet sales have now allowed powerful opioids like fentanyl to reach homes in nearly every region of the country. Fentanyl is a very early hidden opioid that is 50 times more powerful and deadly than heroin. Even a microgram amount of it could kill someone. Before the drug widespread across the U.S., it was illegally manufactured in labs in Mexico and China and often used to cut heroin. The production of fentanyl spread quickly between labs in different countries, but crossed the border to the U.S. in the wake of the decision at Purdue Pharma to redesign Oxycontin to make it harder to abuse. The reason fentanyl is so powerful is because dealers are able to make larger profits selling it than when they use heroin. The National Centre for Health Statistics reported last month that a record of 63,600 deaths occurred in 2016 because of overdoses. Over 20,000 of those deaths were due to fentanyl. They also gathered that fentanyl increased at a steady annual rate of 18% per year from 1999-2013 and then shot up 88% from 2013-2016. Fentanyl is commonly disguised as other painkillers (usually Xanax or Oxycontin) and sold on the street. It is being smuggled into the U.S. and Canada and used to fill fake prescriptions or to lace heroin.

These circumstances are ideal for online sales. With the rise of Silk Road, which is an online market created by Ross Ulbricht, who was arrested in 2013, but was quickly rebooted by imitators. Since then, no federal agencies have released any data on the prevalence of drugs online.  According to research done by RAND Europe and researchers at Carneige Mellon University, the authorities say that these markets account for a small proportion of the overall traffic in most drugs. The dark web has become a very important source of distribution of fentanyl. So far, there has been proof that it has enabled distribution channels that previously were not an issue.

Following the New York Times Report last month, the federal authorities had announced charges against a six-person operation in Utah that was buying fentanyl in bulk from China on the ‘dark web’ then mixing the substance into pills and selling the pills on the web to people in the U.S. There were 8,332 verified sales on the site. The site, AlphaBay, had more than 21,000 listings for opioids and 4,100 were for fentanyl. Just last year, there have been more than two dozen arrests of American drug dealers who were selling and buying opioids online, most were tied to deaths of overdoses.

With the help of the dark web and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, the Fentanyl crisis has become widespread and out of control, while most Americans aren’t even aware of it. Americans are dying and action must be taken. It could all be a coincidence that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are gaining traction as the Fentanyl epidemic is becoming more and more prevalent in North America. However, the facts prove that both are becoming seemingly out of control and are silently gaining more and more power.

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