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Online sales of illicit drugs triple since Silk Road closure

Copycats sprang up within weeks of the feds shuttering the online illegal-drug marketplace in 2013, new research finds.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
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Silk Road was an online bazaar for drugs and other contraband.

'Deep Web,' screenshot by CNET

Sales of illicit drugs on the dark web have tripled since the feds shut down the online illegal-drug marketplace Silk Road in 2013, according to new research released this week.

At the same time, revenue from online sales of heroin, cocaine and marijuana has doubled, according to a RAND study (PDF) conducted by the University of Manchester and University of Montreal. Researchers concluded that it was just a matter of weeks after the FBI closed Silk Road before copycats stepped up to fill the void on the dark web -- portions of the internet not usually indexed by the traditional search engines.

"Today, there are around 50 so-called cryptomarkets and vendor shops where vendors and buyers find each other anonymously to trade illegal drugs, new psychoactive substances, prescription drugs and other goods and services," the study's authors said.

Before its closure in October 2013, Silk Road was known by users as an Amazon of sorts for illegal narcotics, a $1.2 billion drug empire with buyer ratings and money-back guarantees. Ross Ulbricht, convicted of being the site's founder, was sentenced in 2015 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.