Black market sales of opioid prescription drugs online have significantly increased since the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) restricted the sales of one opioid more tightly in 2014.
More specifically, that year the DEA reclassified opioids containing hydrocodone from a Schedule III to a Schedule II drug. This new classification stopped automatic repeat prescriptions.
Hydrocodone is often combined with the analgesic acetaminophen (Tylenol) and sold under the brand name Vicodin.
Researchers analyzed whether the 2014 ruling had an effect on the trade of opioids through illegal online markets known as “cryptomarkets.” Data was pulled and examined from 31 of the world’s largest cryptomarkets operating from 2013 to 2016.
The results indicated that there was an increase in the sale of prescription opioids through US cryptomarkets after reclassification, with no statistically significant changes in sales of sedatives, steroids, stimulants or illicit opioids.
Sales of opioids through US cryptomarkets represented 13.7% of all drug sales in July 2016, compared with a modelled estimate of 6.7% of all sales had the reclassification not been introduced, researchers reported in the BMJ.
Researchers also noted that there was a change in the type of drugs purchased after reclassification. Fentanyl went from being the least-sold product to the second most popular prescription opioid bought from cryptomarket sellers based in the US. Meanwhile, hydrocodone sales dropped, while sales of oxycodone — also known under the brand name OxyContin — rose.. Currently, fentanyl is the leading cause of opioid overdoses in the US.