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In our opinion: New drug kingpins operate on the dark web

While we have praised law enforcement for their ongoing efforts to adapt to this new environment, parents must also work to protect their children from potentially deadly doses of tremendously dangerous substances such as fentanyl.
While we have praised law enforcement for their ongoing efforts to adapt to this new environment, parents must also work to protect their children from potentially deadly doses of tremendously dangerous substances such as fentanyl.
Elise Madsen

Fentanyl: A synthetic opioid which is 50 times more powerful than heroin and linked to overdose deaths across the country.

Parents take note: If you suspect your teenager is getting drugs, it may be the dark web that’s supplying, not a neighborhood pill pusher.

In Sunday’s print edition of the Deseret News, investigative reporter Jesse Hyde details the troubling story of Aaron Shamo, an Eagle Scout now accused of becoming a modern day drug kingpin through his understanding of the darknet — the encrypted part of the internet also called the dark web. Law enforcement investigators say he operated a multi-million dollar distribution center out of his suburban split-level in Cottonwood Heights until federal officers busted down his door late last year.

His arrest (he has pleaded not guilty) and the startling number of deaths attributed to opioid use is a warning to parents who must understand how the new drug trade works to protect themselves and their children from potentially deadly doses of dangerous substances such as fentanyl.

New synthetic drugs are sometimes advertised through social media, and the names can change as hundreds of novel compounds flow out of makeshift clandestine chemical labs in China. Last year, Park City lost two 13-year-olds after they overdosed on a dangerous synthetic opiate called “pink” that had been procured by a friend.

Beyond Park City, death tolls across the country continue to rise. Last year, in the United States alone, early estimates say overdoses exceeded 59,000, an unprecedented figure. According to Hyde’s report, it amounts to “the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.”

“Think of Dodger Stadium,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the DEA in the Deseret News’ report. “Fill that whole place, pack it with people. We lost more people to drug overdoses than you can squeeze into Dodger Stadium in 50 states in one year. That is extraordinary.”

Infiltrating the dark web is not particularly hard for technologically adept teenagers. A few Google-searches and the right equipment can get an adolescent too young to vote, or even drive, pills that will alter their minds and potentially take their lives.

Some recommended tips for parents:

• Stay on the lookout for unusual packages coming to your home, especially unmarked boxes, packages within packages or shipments from China or other foreign nations.

• Watch your child’s internet activity, including their social media accounts.

• Look out for strange activities involving computer devices (laptops, tablets, phones, etc), including the installation of a so-called “Tor” browser on a teen’s computer.

• Do not permit your teen access to a P.O. box or allow them to purchase Bitcoins, the online currency of choice in the dark web.

Getting information and understanding the threats to our families is the first step in protecting them.