More US citizens died of overdoses between 2000 to 2016 than in WW1 and WW2 combined.

Even though the opioid crisis is mostly publicized in North America, the opportunities for criminals and threats to victims are not contained within the Canadian and US borders. The illicit opioid market is thriving in a way that puts the rest of the world at risk of a similar crisis.

In less time than it took the US to reach its crisis status, we could see other countries fall into the same traps of over-prescribing pain relievers, ineffectively monitoring postal services and retaining slow regulatory protocols.

Even as present techniques outlined below still prove effective, we can anticipate that organized crime will continue to experiment with new and unforeseen methods to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and widen their customer base to other regions

Social Media and Apps
Drug dealers have not shied away from the most popular social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. As a result, these popular social media networks struggle to counteract the exploitation of their platforms due to the constraints and extension of their own design.

The monitoring of evolving drug-related hashtags and the content suggestion algorithms that cater to illicit drug interests has become the main challenge for artificial intelligence still in its early stages of experimentation.

The inability of human real-time regulation is a known weakness which is easily taken advantage of by dealers and buyers who discreetly carry on their arrangements undetected in popular social networks and apps. Obvious hashtags such as #fentanyl, #cocaine, and #heroin have been blocked on the networks, but the ever-changing names used to describe narcotics do not follow predictable linguistic or cultural patterns.

Algorithms at this point simply cannot discern the context of hashtags to correlate illicit drugs with accounts and conversations. App makers and social network providers have shown hesitance in mixing police objectives into their “secret sauce” of algorithms.

Understandably, full implementation of police and government initiatives into their platforms would shift the entire public perception and business models into precarious market positioning.

Cellular Network Technology
A drug cartel in Mexico used engineers to install a discreet nationwide encrypted cellular network involving solar-powered antennas and repeaters installed in remote locations. This sophisticated communication endeavor enabled criminals to communicate seamlessly without detection.

Drones
Along with common street corner and car delivery channels, come more experimental methods such as remotely-piloted drug distribution in the form of drones. The evolving power and range of new drone devices have empowered narcotics dealers to exploit weaknesses at common dealing zones like borders, prisons and city neighborhoods.

Law enforcement agencies around the globe are beginning to experiment with their own counter-measures to combat criminal drone activity. It’s only a matter of time before formal drone squads become more commonly deployed in the US to catch the remote flying devices with tactics like nets or digital override solutions.

Un-manned Vehicles
Along with heroin carrying drones, come 70 mph ultralight planes, as well as larger unmanned vehicles in the form of driverless cars and submarines. Narco-subs are now responsible for 30% of maritime drug trafficking from Mexico and navigate virtually undetected encased in lead to avoid infra-red detection.

Low-Tech
The hit-and-miss use of catapults by Mexican drug cartels launching fentanyl packages over the border is the latest in “old-school” methods, along with the continuous use of drug “mule” traffic entering the US by foot and vehicle.

The ease and low-cost cost of fentanyl production remove the concern of a certain percentage of “lost” product due to the inaccuracy of low-tech methods, as it is just considered the cost of doing business. The fentanyl that does get through and is sold makes up for any smuggling losses encountered along the way.

What is also alarming is that certain Mexican heroin and cocaine is being laced with fentanyl unbeknownst to users who easily overdose as a result. The escalation of drug dealers killing off their victims isn’t factored into the illicit business models that seem to be under the impression that the US market is growing at such an alarming pace that there is no need to ensure repeat customers.

For more in-depth coverage of the crisis, read the whitepaper – Battling the Narcotics Crisis with Cellebrite Pathfinder

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