The Crypto Pharmacy was written by Ronan, and it’s included in issue #15 of 21Cryptos Magazine. To read more articles like this subscribe today. To read other free articles check out our Magazine category. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
This article is from an earlier date and as such can contain figures that were actual at time of writing.
Cryptocurrencies have long been associated with the trade of illegal drugs. Indeed they owe a part of their recent prominence to historic marketplaces such as Silk Road, which combined increased anonymity with amazon style convenience.
Needless to say the moral implications of purchasing drugs with cryptocurrencies are more or less the same as with any currency. The power of these platforms appears to have also increased the illegal purchase of licit pharmaceuticals, for self medication.
These marketplaces are able to offer specialised medicines that would be difficult to acquire on a street corner, often with increased authenticity. This goes in hand with a boom in symptom checkers and medical forums where sufferers can attempt to self diagnose – often to the anguish of medical professionals.
The Global Drug Survey’s 2018 report showed major increases in purchases on darkweb markets since 2014. Pharmaceutical purchases indicated by respondents to the survey have increased from 16% in 2014 to 19.4% in 2018. Prescription opioids specifically show a more significant increase, however, this is perhaps better explained by the non-medicinal usage which is booming in the United States.
The motivation here often starts as legitimate medical usage for pain relief, yet the cases where drugs are obtained illegally are more often the result of subsequent addiction. The majority of illegal supply coming from street dealers or friends and family. But what about the use of medical drugs obtained illegally?
I spoke to several people who have been self medicating from drugs purchased with cryptocurrencies. There were varied reasons, In some cases people had been denied treatment or did not wish to have the treatment on their official medical records or the drugs were not available in their country.
One thing that was clear from the people I spoke to was that they were all law abiding in all other aspects of their life. They did not move in the circles required to find specialist drugs illegally on the street, most would not have been able to purchase even the most common narcotics.
One woman who wished to remain anonymous, who we shall call Emma, only chose to pursue their medical treatment due to the recent popularity of Bitcoin. They saw Bitcoin’s privacy features as suitably secure to purchase illegally sourced medicine without recourse – whether or not Bitcoin is particularly untraceable is moot, but it certainly is the currency of choice for many online dealers.
In the case of Emma she wished to purchase hormone therapy drugs to aid in transitioning to her gender identity. This was denied by the heath service due to budgeting and psychological evaluation. It would be prescient to mention that nothing in this article is an endorsement of subverting professional advice – go see your doctor.
However, this does represent an interesting ideological question. Emma believes strongly that this is the best course of action and is willing to pay for it. Only with the help of VPN’s and specialist browsers.
The third and arguably most important factor is the use of cryptocurrencies as a payment option, making the Darknet markets tangible. Now Emma’s situation is certainly controversial as it goes against, in part, the medical advice she was given. Not to mention the continued support and care you receive through the correct channels.
Law and Authenticity
Cryptocurrencies are global by design, usable across the world far more seamlessly than fiat currencies. This has helped Mark, another anonymous interviewee, to acquire medication. In this case Mark requires a new drug that is entirely legal in the US, passing all the strict regulation.
However, in the UK where Mark lives the drug is still undergoing trials and yet to be approved by NICE as cost effective, despite success in clinical trials. Mark was suggested the drug by a UK specialist but was too late to take part in the UK testing. He is able to purchase the drug from an American source using cryptocurrencies. For Mark his chronic illness has left him in a state where he is willing to take the risk on purchasing from an unregulated source. Although the people I spoke to were concerned about the illegality of purchasing the medicine, by far the biggest concern was the authenticity of the products they received.
It would appear that with the blooming of freedom provided by decentralised currencies and marketplaces we must make sure to be aware of which institutions and authorities we are undermining. Every country has its weakness when it comes to health care, be it corporate interests, nationalised services or critical underfunding. The impulse to globalise health care through a universal currency is understandably appealing, especially when an identical pill such as Lipitor can cost $6 in New Zealand and $124 in the US. Alternatively, wait times and accessibility in the UK can often make free state care unattractive.
After conducting these interviews it appears that cryptocurrencies are used to bypass perceived inadequacies with local health care, rather than as a preferred option. This is analogous of other industries being disrupted by crypto. However when it comes to self-medicating, unlike other sectors, the repercussions aren’t only financial, but physical.