Law enforcement authorities arrested two young suspects in Bergen, Norway for allegedly selling the dangerous synthetic drug, furanylfentanyl, to their customers on the dark web.
Norwegian investigators detained a 26-year-old man on February 15 for allegedly running a vendor shop on the dark web selling furanylfentanyl. Another, a 23-year-old suspect, was also indicted on drug-related charges, however, police did not place the defendant in custody.
Furanylfentanyl is an opioid analgesic that is an analog of fentanyl and has been sold as a designer drug. According to the medical research, the substance is not as dangerous as fentanyl, the synthetic heroin that already caused the deaths of thousands and opioid epidemics in many countries, but it is still potent. The drug was reported to be 20 to 50 times stronger than heroin. Life-threatening reactions caused by furanylfentanyl use have been observed in both Sweden and Canada.
Just in 2016, at least seven deaths in Cook County, Illinois have been linked to furanylfentanyl, with additional deaths in the suburban areas of Chicago in 2017. Side effects of fentanyl analogs are similar to fentanyl, which include itching, nausea and potentially serious respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening. Not just since the recent appearance of the substances, fentanyl analogs had already killed hundreds of people in Europe, especially in former Soviet republics, including Estonia.
A DEA research claimed that fentanyl and its analogs are being mass-produced in Chinese labs, and are then smuggled into North-America and European countries. The new variants of fentanyl are manufactured by Chinese chemists in order to circumvent restrictions on the sale of fentanyl and its analogs in the US, Canada, and European countries.
“Only small amounts were seized, but it can provide many doses and is very dangerous,” Elisabeth Drange, a senior engineer in the department of drug analysis of the Norwegian Police Service, said in a press release on Monday.
According to police information, most of the sales the duo allegedly conducted took place on the dark web. Investigators reported that the suspects used encrypted communication to message customers, accepted bitcoins as payment, and used the national postal service to ship the narcotics to the buyers. Law enforcement authorities added that the use of the darknet and the Tor Network made the whole investigation more difficult for detectives, although, they managed to identify both of the suspects.
“The sale of the deadly substance was [conducted] mainly on the dark web, but we cannot exclude that the drug was also sold in more traditional ways,” police attorney Ole Kristian Bjørge said in a statement.
In the recent years, the Criminal Police investigated multiple cases in Norway, where the suspects allegedly sold narcotics on the dark web. However, when law enforcement authorities discovered that the highly dangerous synthetic drug was sold by the two defendants, police issued a warning to the potential customers.
“The substance is so potent and dangerous that we have to go out and warn,” Bjørge said. The police attorney pointed out that there was a case in January, where a user took fentanyl, or an analog of the drug, in Stavanger, Norway, and died shortly after using the substance. According to Bjørge, the drug had also made an impact on the overdose statistics of the neighboring Sweden. Police reported that furanylfentanyl could add up to thousands of doses even in small amounts, which poses a great risk to the user. Authorities added that the substance is sold in both powder and liquid form, including nasal spray bottles.
“On the basis of the investigation, we have reason to believe that Furanylfentanyl spread in the drug environment in Norway. Given that sales have taken place on the network, it could also have reached people not affiliated with any established drug infested environments, both in Norway and abroad,” said Bjørge.
The police attorney described the investigation of the two suspects as “very resource-intensive”.
“Despite the fact that crimes are being committed in the dark net, we have available methods to investigate these types of cases. There is a risk of detection also for those who choose to commit crimes using these encryption tools,” Bjørge commented on darknet-related crimes in the country.