Global trends, local harms: availability of fentanyl-type drugs on the dark web and accidental overdoses in Ohio


As America’s opioid crisis has become an “epidemic of epidemics,” Ohio has been identified as one of the high burden states regarding fentanyl-related overdose mortality. This study aims to examine changes in the availability of fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and other non-pharmaceutical opioids on cryptomarkets and assess relationship with the trends in unintentional overdoses in Ohio to provide timely information for epidemiologic surveillance. Cryptomarket data were collected at two distinct periods of time: (1) Agora data covered June 2014–September 2015 and were obtained from Grams archive; (2) Dream Market data from March–April 2018 were extracted using a dedicated crawler. A Named Entity Recognition algorithm was developed to identify and categorize the type of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids advertised on cryptomarkets. Time-lagged correlations were used to assess the relationship between the fentanyl, fentanyl analog and other synthetic opioid-related ads from cryptomarkets and overdose data from the Cincinnati Fire Department Emergency Responses and Montgomery County Coroner’s Office. Analysis from the cryptomarket data reveals increases in fentanyl-like drugs and changes in the types of fentanyl analogues and other synthetic opioids advertised in 2015 and 2018 with potent substances like carfentanil available during the second period. The time-lagged correlation was the largest when comparing Agora data to Cincinnati Emergency Responses 1 month later 0.84 (95% CI 0.45, 0.96). The time-lagged correlation between Agora data and Montgomery County drug overdoses was the largest when comparing synthetic opioid-related Agora ads to Montgomery County overdose deaths 7 months later 0.78 (95% CI 0.47, 0.92). Further investigations are required to establish the relationship between cryptomarket availability and unintentional overdose trends related to specific fentanyl analogs and/or other illicit synthetic opioids.

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Funding was provided by National Institute on Drug Abuse (Grant No. 5R21DA044518-02).

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Correspondence to Francois R. Lamy.

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Lokala, U., Lamy, F.R., Daniulaityte, R. et al. Global trends, local harms: availability of fentanyl-type drugs on the dark web and accidental overdoses in Ohio. Comput Math Organ Theory 25, 48–59 (2019).

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  • Fentanyl
  • Fentanyl analogs
  • Illicit synthetic opioids
  • Cryptomarkets
  • Opioid overdose
  • Ohio