Thanks to Craigslist, law enforcement agencies are now battling drug dealers in cyberspace. Each month, more than 50 million free classified ads are posted on one of the Craigslist websites, which serve 570 cities in 50 countries. Unlike ads in newspapers and magazines that are reviewed by editors, Craigslist ads are for the most part not checked for content. This allows drug dealers to post ads for both illicit and prescription drugs. In cities and towns across the U.S., narcotics investigators are making arrests by responding to ads that are publicly displayed on Craigslist websites.
In New York, the drug dealing on Craigslist became so prevalent that special narcotics prosecutor Bridget Brennan asked the website to prohibit and filter ads that are obviously related to drug sales. In response, dealers began to use encoded messages to sell their wares. Ads for “ski lift tickets” may actually be selling cocaine, while the phrase “Tina Turner tickets” refers to methamphetamine. The number “420” is used to advertise marijuana (example: “420 t-shirts”). A reporter for New York’s Village Voice was even able to find an ad that was obviously selling heroin, inviting readers to “Ride the H train.”
In Los Angeles, prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin can be purchased without a prescription through Craigslist ads. Dealers are also using the website to sell Xanax, Valium, Viagra and Cialis. ABC News recently reported on a sting operation conducted by L.A. Sheriffs that led to the arrest of a suspect who was using Craigslist to sell $64,000 worth of prescription drugs stolen from his employer, a major health care provider. When asked by a reporter why he used Craigslist to sell the drugs, the dealer’s answer was “It’s free.”
According to Los Angeles Sheriff Steve Opferman, people who buy and sell prescription drugs on Craigslist are begging to get caught. Besides running the risk of arrest, those who buy drugs through Craigslist ads have no way of knowing what they’re getting. Some prescription drugs that are offered for sale may be stolen from pharmacies or hospitals, but many are counterfeit or manufactured outside of U.S. regulations. The short and long-term effects of these drugs are unknown.
Despite years of devoting law enforcement resources to combating online drug sales, many Craigslist drug dealers in New York, Los Angeles and other major cities continue to thrive. Craigslist, which is headquartered in the San Francisco Bay area, has about 30 employees. It officially prohibits ads that solicit illegal activities, but does not have the ability to monitor the huge number of ads that are posted each day.