Inside Bitcoin’s Surprising Connection to the Opioid Crisis

April 17, 2018         By: Steven Anderson

It’s no secret by now that a lot of Americans think that cryptocurrencies are strictly the domain of criminals, and it’s small wonder that’s the case with reports like the one that recently emerged from CNBC. It turns out, as CNBC revealed, that bitcoin is actually a part of the opioid crisis in the United States, facilitating deals for a major opioid known as fentanyl.

The CNBC report examined one such case, a former Eagle Scout named Aaron Shamo who had been mining bitcoin since 2009, a move that should have made him rich by itself. He had been actively stockpiling bitcoin while working at Apple and eBay field offices in Utah for years. That was the kind of thing that should have set him up to retire almost catastrophically young, but Shamo allegedly did something else with his bitcoin stash: buy drugs, specifically fentanyl.

With almost 20,000 deaths directly linked to fentanyl in 2016 alone, it’s easy to see why there’s such concern. Bitcoin is making it possible to create a paper-trail-free ordering system, as users take their bitcoin online to “dark web” locations, pay for the drugs and have them shipped anywhere. One similar investigation in Ohio reportedly turned up a connection to China, and discovered that there too, bitcoin was the payment vector of choice.

This isn’t the first such case of something like that; back in 2013, the Silk Road was taken down, a site notorious for offering drugs and various other illicit purchases. AlphaBay, a similar site, was shut down back last fall.

People forget that, for decades before bitcoin even emerged, people routinely used US currency for such criminal acts, yet no one believes that US currency was mainly a vector for crime. The problem is that cryptocurrency hasn’t gone mainstream. No matter what you hear about a bubble, it really can’t be; it hasn’t gone sufficiently wide-scale to be a bubble. It’s not likely to, either, if all we hear about is how it’s connected to crime.

What bitcoin and those like it really need is a charm offensive, a clear demonstration of its non-criminal capabilities. While Overstock.com’s efforts here have been exemplary, it needs a few more major mainstream champions before it can really be the winner that it might be.