The Trump administration will be more aggressive in its fight against opioid-related crimes online as Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in Pittsburgh on Monday the establishment of a new team to disrupt online opioid sales.
The government will put up Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team with the goal of shutting down online marketplaces, and in turn, reduce opioid addiction and overdoses. In order to better meet their target, the team will more than double the FBI’s investment in fighting online opioid trafficking.
Sessions committed the FBI to dedicating dozens of more staffers to the team led by federal agents and analysts so that they can give focus on the issue.
Sessions told law enforcement officials gathered in Pittsburgh’s federal courthouse: “Criminals think that they are safe online because they’re anonymous, but they are in for a rude awakening. We have already infiltrated their networks, and we are determined to bring them to justice.”
The opioid problem is so huge that a record 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2016. Sessions expressed his shock over the reality. He said: “It’s unbelievable. That’s more than the population of Lancaster, Pa., dead in one year. And in 2017, it appears that the death toll was even higher.”
Mobile technology is “revolutionizing” illegal drug markets and changing the dynamics of drug trade operations. While open-air drug markets still flourish in many U.S. cities, in others drug buyers are increasingly turning to using encrypted communications and messaging apps on their phones.
For example, an online search for the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl on the site EC21 won’t show any results. But if the online searcher spells it “fentanylIIIII”, a thumbnail photo of white powder will pop up along with details on the phone number and email address from a company selling it, possibly from China.
Sessions revealed: “You don’t have to go to a street corner to buy drugs. With a few clicks of a button, you can go online and have them shipped right to your door.”
In July, the Justice Department also shut down AlphaBay, an illicit marketplace for drugs, firearms and fake documents on the dark Web. Sessions called it that time the “largest dark Web takedown in world history.”