The speed with which the Internet is transforming drug markets poses a major challenge to law enforcement, public health, research and monitoring agencies. The study aims to raise understanding of the current online supply of drugs and to map the range of Internet markets in existence.

The study kicked off with data collection and a literature review in September 2014 and culminated in an expert meeting in Lisbon from 30–31 October. Insights were provided from the fields of IT, research, monitoring and law enforcement and from the perspectives of Internet and drug users. Special focus was placed on the online sale of new psychoactive substances (NPS) and medicinal products for illicit use; the role of social media and apps; and drug sales on the ‘deep web’ (inaccessible via standard web browsers).

Use of the ‘surface web’ (accessible via common search engines) for the sale of NPS has received increased attention over the last decade. In 2013, EMCDDA online monitoring identified 651 websites selling ‘legal highs’ to Europeans. However, a recent development in the online market, highlighted in today’s study, is the sale of NPS on the ‘deep web’. The report refers to an increasingly blurred dividing line between ‘surface web’ and ‘deep web’ operations, resulting in a ‘grey market’ (with some sites having a ‘surface web’ presence, but with underlying elements on the ‘deep web’).

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