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Online drug trafficking on the rise, B.C. crime researcher says resources needed

SFU professor says the problem is a case of ‘whack-a-mole’ for police

There’s a growing trend of online encrypted drug dealing that a study says needs more attention by police.

Richard Frank, an associate professor of criminology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., says the encrypted markets are attractive to buyers and sellers for lower prices, contactless transactions and a large variety of drugs available.

He is part of a research team studying the illegal activity for the Office of Crime Reduction and Gang Outreach, which wants data on the size and scope of the online problem to justify the need for more funding to combat the problem.

Frank, who is also the director of the International CyberCrime Research Centre, says the group analyzed eight of the largest so-called cryptomarkets between June 2021 and January 2022.

The study showed almost 17 tonnes of drug products were trafficked for $234.7 million in eight markets, with the most popular drugs being stimulants, cannabis, opioids and benzodiazepines.

Frank says the first cryptomarket was identified around 2010, and while police work to shut down sites whenever possible, it has been “like whack-a-mole” ever since.

“You shut down one (and) two or three spring up. Some disappear on their own, but still, you shut some down and they’re simply replaced,” he said in an interview Monday. “This problem is growing, but it’s not for a lack of effort on the law enforcement side. It’s more that this is just becoming a bit more established.”

READ MORE: Three Nanaimo men charged after ‘dark web’ drug-trafficking bust