In a major development in the international war on illegal drugs, the Justice Department is reporting 179 arrests and the seizure of six and a half million dollars. It's all associated with what's called the "darknet" – the parts of the internet hidden from most people.
The heads of several US enforcement agencies including the FBI and DEA, together with international partners, announced the results of Operation DisrupTor, aimed at disrupting the national crisis of opioid trafficking.
The majority of the arrests – 120 of them – happened here in the US, shutting down businesses with names such as Pill Cosby and Never Pressed.
Law enforcement officials say they're hoping this action sends a strong message that the dark web will not protect criminals.
"There will be no safe haven for drug dealing in cyberspace," Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said.
According to the CDC, 67,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2018, averaging a thousand people a week, many of the acquiring their drugs on the darknet.
"Hiding behind anonymizing software known as Tor, a new sort of drug kingpin is now able to reach more buyers than ever before," Rosen said. "These darknet marketplaces have grown in popularity at an alarming rate and allowed drug traffickers to openly advertise and take orders from anywhere in the world."
The task force has taken down a number of operations pumping this poison onto the streets including the powerful and often deadly painkiller fentanyl.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said, "Just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose. So that means that one 11kg seizure equates to about 5.5 million lethal doses being taken off the streets of American communities where the impacts could have been devastating."
Operation DisrupTor builds on the successful takedown of the darknet distributor Wall Street Market last year. But the operations are sophisticated making them more difficult to detect.
DEA Acting Administrator Tim Shea said, "We've increasingly found drug traffickers distributing counterfeit prescriptions made to look like medicine you receive from your doctor or pharmacies but with deadly results."
A new e-commerce program is enlisting online retailers like Amazon to ban all online sales of the illegal pill presses. Officials say while they've seen a decrease in deaths related to prescription opioids because of their crackdown on regulations there, they've seen an increase in deaths related to synthetic opioids and that's why operations like DistruptTor are so important.