The U.S. Justice Department and Europol announced Tuesday the arrest of 150 individuals allegedly involved in the sale of illegal drugs and other illicit goods on the dark web.
The sweeping campaign, named Operation Dark HunTor, spanned 10 months, three continents, and involved more than 12 international law enforcement agencies. The sting confiscated 200,000 pills in the United States, 90% of which were found to contain counterfeit opiods or other narcotics. U.S. law enforcement made 36 arrests across 13 states and the District of Columbia. Law enforcement seized over $31.6 million in cash and virtual currencies, 45 firearms and 234 kilograms of drugs, including enough fentanyl for more than 4 million lethal doses according to deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco.
The number of deaths related to drug overdoses in the U.S. climbed by 29% in 2o20, up to 93,331 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids were the cause of 69,710 those deaths, up from 50,963 the year before.
“We’re here today to expose those who seek the shadows of the internet to peddle killer pills worldwide,” she said.
Operation Dark HunTor builds on previous successes including an effort led by German law enforcement earlier this year that shut down a major illicit online marketplace, DarkMarket. It also builds on the Joint Criminal Opioid and Darknet Enforcement team’s Operation DisrupTor, which in 2020 led to the arrest of 179 alleged dark web drugs traffickers and the seizures of over $6.5 million in cash and virtual currencies and 500 kilograms of drugs.
As a part of Operation Dark HunTor, Italian police shut down two highly active dark web marketplaces, “DeepSea” and “Berlusconi.” The two forums boasted over 40,000 advertisements of illicit goods. Investigations are still ongoing and more arrests are expected, Monaco said.
Dark web sales of drugs have surged during the COVID-19 pandemic and dark web revenues have exceeded pre-pandemic levels, Monaco noted.
Alongside the rise in the sales of illegally manufactured drugs has come an increase in overdose deaths resulting from the fatal pills. The Drug Enforcement Administration in September issued its first public safety alert in six years about an unprecedented number of lethal counterfeit pills entering the United States. The pills, which are often marketed as legitimate, have become easily accessible on social media and e-commerce platforms, according to the agency.