[click] Traditionally, new drug trends had their origins in cultural capitals and harbour
cities before gradually spreading to towns and villages.
In short, this relied primarily on human contact; people from different geographical
locations and networks meet in specific, shared spaces, where they get initiated into
a new drug. Subsequently, they go back to their own communities and network and
the process is repeated
[click] Here we see an impression of the diffusion of heroin in the Netherlands,
starting in 1972; all in all, a process of some 10 to 15 years.
[click] Here we see an impression of the diffusion of krokodil in Russia and Ukraine…
[click] However, in 2011 krokodil suddenly surfaced in Georgia, where in the past 10+
years local markets in injectable drugs were dominated by heroin and (subsequently)
buprenorphine. Within a year krokodil diffused deep into the networks of Georgian
PWID, as did homemade methamphetamine. Between 2011 and 2013, between 89%
and 72% of PWID visiting harm reduction services in Georgia had injected krokodil
and between 82% and 25% had injected homemade stimulants.
The pace of diffusion of krokodil injecting in Georgia can most likely not be explained
without considering the role of the internet.
John Black was a late 19th century/early 20th century hobo and professional burglar,
living out the dying age of the Wild West. He wrote You Can't Win (Macmillan, 1926)
a memoir or sketched autobiography describing his days on the road and life as an
outlaw. Black's book was written as an anti-crime book urging criminals to go straight
but is also his statement of belief in the futility of prisons and the criminal justice
system, hence the title of the book. Jack Black was writing from experience, having
spent thirty years (fifteen of which were spent in various prisons) as a traveling
criminal and offers tales of being a cross-country stick-up man, home burglar, petty
thief, and opium fiend.
Since the rise of the internet traditional explanations and models of drug diffusion
have become less reliable in describing new drug trends.
In the last 10-15 years comprehending the epidemiology and diffusion of new drug
trends has become increasingly complex. The social and technological environment of
the diffusion of drug trends is changing rapidly and theories that previously aptly
explained the diffusion of drug use patterns may no longer offer valid explanations.
New drug trends have emerged (and disappeared) at a much faster pace with the rise
of the internet and patterns of e.g. geographic diffusion are much harder to
distinguish (where did it start, where did it move to, via what channels/(overlapping)
In 2013, 81 new synthetic drugs were detected in the EU (EMCDDA, 2014). Up from
14 in 2005.
Potential merging of different trends: home production and NPS
Sisa (homemade, smokable methampthetamine) in Greece
GHB in the Netherlands
Self-produced methcathinone (Jeff) in Krakow, Poland
When thinking about the role of the internet in the diffusion of new drug trends, I
think that at this point we can distinguish two crucial developments:
On the demand side we see that during the 1990s access to information on mind
altering substances became available to an increasingly larger audience, in particular
with the launch of Windows in 1995. This effectively ended the monopoly on
information about drugs – consumers have access to an ever-increasing body of
online information that competes with “official” drug information from governments
Some ten years later, the emergence of e-Commerce started changing the rules of the
game of drug trafficking. The online marketplace is an increasingly important
platform where buyers and sellers of drugs meet. in particular of unscheduled drugs
(NPS), but not exclusively.
Darknet based trading places, such as the (revamped, after the original was shut
down by the DEA) Silk road, Agora, Evolution, Pandora, Blue Sky, Hydra, Cloud Nine or
Andromeda. The Darknet still has a rather high geek level – at this point you need to
be quite computer savvy to access it, although I am sure that, given the pace of IT
diffusion, that will soon be as simple as installing an app on your phone.
Drug trading via twitter, Instagram? check…
The combination of e-Commerce and NPS is a genuine Game Changer and NPS can be
purchased 24/7 from virtually any location. As a result, new trends involving NPS can
rapidly emerge in municipalities, large or small, urban or rural. In turn, this means
new trends will be less predictable and less uniform. This present enormous
challenges to public health, epidemiology and drug policy.