Queensland Drug Lab Detections Reduce as Dark Web Challenges the Police
Queensland Police Services (QPS) have indicated that illegal drug lab detections have reduced significantly as the dark web continues to pose a significant challenge to law enforcement agencies.
Queensland was once named as the ‘meth lab capital’ due to the high number of illegal drug labs in the state. In the last five years, the number of illicit and home drug labs found by the drug control agencies has significantly dropped by over 50 percent.
The drug lab detections have dropped to below 150 yearly, which gave the Queensland police an impression that they are winning. However, they later realized that the streets drug dealers had moved online on the dark web marketplaces where their anonymity is assured.
According to Detective Finney Sasha, a Senior Sergeant with Queensland Police Services (QPS), criminals are buying illegal drugs and chemicals online on the dark web, which is a relatively new area for the police service when it comes to investigation and hence posing a big challenge. “We noticed that we were not winning the war on illegal drugs after our statistics showed that drug offenses had almost doubled in the state, between 20011-2012 and 2016-2017 while the drug detections had reduced by more than 50 percent,” he said.
PHOTO: Forensic chemists were sorting through drug on a drug destruction day.
With the coming of portable labs and the dark web, law enforcement agencies are finding it extremely difficult to investigate, and crackdown illegal drug operations. Statistics from the QPS indicate that 139 illegal and portable drug labs were shut down in 2017, which is a decrease from 380 five years ago.
Detective Finney, from the Synthetic Drug Unit, said that drug manufacturers were doing anything possible to avoid detection including buying drugs law materials and precursor chemicals online on the dark web. The use of virtual currencies on the dark web is what adds another layer of anonymity which makes it even more complicated for police to investigate such cases.
“The dark web continues to pose a great challenge to law enforcement, not only in Australia but also all over the world. There are units dedicated toward the challenge, but being an emerging and involving trend, it will remain a challenge for quite a long time in my view,” Sergeant Finney said. “Not so long ago, drug manufacturers had to perform a pseudo-run to make Sudafed tablets. These tablets are now ordered and imported from China on the dark web.
Dr. James Martin, a dark web expert from Swinburne University said anonymity was the driving force behind the trend by drug traffickers and their potential customers to go on the dark web.
“There are more of both drug sellers and buyers on the dark web than you will ever find in any physical market. This is due to the many favorable factors,” he said. “There are many dealers, a wide range of products, the completion is high, and products are of high quality, the prices are lower than on the streets, and there is no possibility of physical violence.”
After the shutdown of a notorious dark web marketplace for illegal weapons and drugs called Silk Road in 2013 by the FBI, Dr. Martin believes that more and even bigger dark web markets have emerged.
“It’s a game of cat and mouse. The police adapt, even comes up with new policies and regulations and then the dark web criminals adapt more,” he said. I hope in less than 20 years, Australia will have an electronic evidence-based drug policy involving a higher level of legal regulation and decriminalization of different controlled substances.
PHOTO Drug exhibits kept in storage until cases are closed.
Yearly, Queensland police seize a lot of chemicals and items such as glassware, improvised beer kegs, plastic containers, kitchen dishes, and drug-making equipment. These items are then stored safely as exhibits until the court cases involved are closed, a process which can take even years.
After the case is closed, the exhibits are then sorted carefully by a forensic chemist before a day is set for destruction usually by incineration.
“The chemical fumes emitted during destruction also pose a big danger since they are toxic, colorless and odorless,” said Sergeant Finney. “This means you can’t see or smell them but can cause death on inhalation.”
Peter Culshaw, the Queensland forensic chemist, said that he often found dangerous chemicals such as mercury when sorting out drug lab items. “I have come to close varying levels of impurities in the drugs that are seized,” he said. “People taking these drugs have no idea that they are poisoning their body,” he said.