An EU-focused analysis of drug supply on the AlphaBay marketplace


Online anonymous marketplaces are a relatively recent technological development that enables sellers and buyers to transact online with far stronger anonymity guarantees than on traditional electronic commerce platforms. This has led certain individuals to engage in transactions of illicit or illegal goods.

The AlphaBay marketplace, which was in operation between December 2014 and July 2017, reportedly became the leading marketplace during that time. In this report, we present an analysis of sales on AlphaBay, with a focus on drug supply coming from the European Union. Keeping in mind the limitations inherent to such data collection, we found that, for the period and the marketplaces considered:

  • AlphaBay did become a very large marketplace, with daily sales overall exceeding 600,000 euros at its peak in early 2017. By itself, it grossed at least as much revenue over 2014–2017 as all other marketplaces combined between 2011–2015 [8].
  • EU-based suppliers represent approximately a quarter of all drug sales; this is down from 46 % for marketplaces previously studied in the 2011–2015 interval.
  • EU-originating drugs primarily came from Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
  • Cannabis, cocaine and other stimulants altogether represented a majority of all EU-based drug sales.
  • Supply of NewPsychoactive Substances (NPS) remained very modest with revenues below EUR 2,500 per day at market peak.
  • Marketplace vendors primarily catered in the retail space,but there was evidence of larger(bulk-level) sales. Volume-based discounting tended to occur, albeit at relatively modest levels.
  • Half of the vendors specialised in one type of drug; and half of the drug sellers tended to stick to a given weight echelon.
  • Save for the decreasing share of European sales, most of the trends observed in this report confirm what we had previously found for other marketplaces in the 2011–2015 interval. In other words, the ecosystem, as a whole, appears relatively stable over time. 

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Additional information

This document was prepared by the author for the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) under contract CT.17.SAT.0063.1.0. It was commissioned to provide background information to inform and contribute to the drafting of the EMCDDA-Europol joint publication Drugs and the darknet: perspectives for enforcement, research and policy. While the author is professionally affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University, this work was performed as an independent consultant. This paper represents the position of the author, at the time of the writing, and not that of Carnegie Mellon University. Please note that the views, interpretations and conclusions set out in this publication are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the EMCDDA, or its partners, any EU Member State or any agency or institution of the European Union.