BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The federal government on Monday seized three China-based websites which authorities believe have contributed to drug use and overdoses across the U.S., including the deaths of a man and woman from Hamburg.
On Friday, U.S. Attorney William Hochul announced the following websites were seized for selling illegal and potentially dangerous controlled substances and analogues:
Hochul’s office says these websites have been under investigation for the past year as agents looked into how illegal controlled substances were being purchased from websites operated by Chinese businesses.
“ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement] agents have been working for almost a year now on a number of Chinese websites, making undercover purchases, following the sales of these illegal drugs into the United States, in the Western District of New York, and arresting individuals who are buying these for resale on the streets of Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Kaufman, who is prosecuting the case.
Kaufman tells News 4 these three websites, and hundreds more like them, are becoming a go-to source of synthetic narcotics and other designer drugs.
“It’s basically a literal drug supermarket,” Kaufman explains. “You can go on these websites, and they’re open to everybody, ’cause it’s the internet.”
“We were able to purchase fentanyl, which is obviously the most dangerous substance. That’s what people [are taking] when [they believe] they’re taking heroin. And fentanyl will kill you. Methylone, bath salts, ecstasy-like type drugs…”
Kaufman says drugs from China are believed to have caused at least three overdoses in Western New York. Last August, a man and a woman in Hamburg died after taking MT-45. In October 2013, a 17-year-old girl using Methylone suffered seizures and went into a coma. She has now recovered.
“We strongly believe – and we’re trying to verify that fact – that those drugs that are causing these injuries and these deaths came from websites such as these,” says Kaufman.
ICE and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are seeing an increasing number of drug dealers in the United States getting their supplies from Chinese-run websites, according to Kaufman. There are a number of reasons why.
“Whether it’s going to be $150, or a $200 transaction – fairly cheap,” says Kaufman. “To be honest, it’s a lot safer to do it over the internet than… to go out on a street corner and try to buy a hand-to-hand sale from another dealer. Because then, you don’t have the danger of being shot at or the violence that’s associated with these type of drugs.”
While it may be a safer way for dealers to conduct business, the risks for users are exponentially greater.
“The anonymity of the internet is real dangerous. They don’t know what they’re getting. They think they’re getting a product that’s going to get them high, but they don’t know it’s a product that can kill them,” Kaufman says.
“Websites such as these are nothing more than technologically enhanced, street corner drug dealers,” said Hochul. “We have often warned the public about purchasing knock off goods online. When it comes to substances which are intended for human consumption, such purchases become a life and death situation.”