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The 21st Century Substance Abuser: Cyberspace Intersecting with the Drug Culture
By Art Bowker, Cybercrime Specialist
Published: 03/21/2011

Computer drugs On March 1, 2011, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) exercised its emergency scheduling authority to control five chemicals (JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol). These five chemicals are used to make what is referred to as “fake pot” products. The resulting smoke-able herbal product brands, with such names as “Spice,” “K2,” “Blaze,” and “Red X Dawn” were sold on the Internet and a variety of locations as legal substitutes for getting a a marijuana-like high. The marketing and sale of these marijuana substitutes online represents just one way drug use is being impacted by the Internet. Community correctional professionals now need to become familiar with the cyberspace’s role in substance abuse behavior to be effective change agents.

The National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) observed in 2002 that drug use facilitation appeared to be the most common drug-related activity on the Internet. NDIC categorized this facilitation as:
  • Use: Information is readily available online about the supposedly positive effects of drug use at the same time downplaying the negative effects. Information is also presented on how to use readily available products, such as cold medications, in order to get “high.” The sites also frequently explain drug use terminology and slang, thereby acclimating individuals to drug culture.
  • Production: Some Internet sites provide recipes for individuals to produce their own cocktails of abuse. These sites often times include not only the ingredients but where to obtain them as well as the how to get the production equipment. Unfortunately, misinformation is not unusual, which can lead to serious injury/illness or death.
  • Sale: Individuals can easily search online for drug suppliers or as noted above drug substitutes. Sites marketing drugs with no prescription needed are not usual.

Many of NDIC observations seem valid even today. A small 2005 study found 12 patients (9 male, 3 female) 100% reported that Internet-based information had affected the ways in which they had used psychoactive substances. Additionally, eight of these respondents described adopting behaviors intended to minimize the risks associated with psychoactive substance use. The respondents also reported changes in the use of a wide variety of illicit substances as well as over-the-counter and prescription pharmaceuticals based upon their online research.

Leinwand (2007) also cited a study that found 10 million online messages written by teens in 2006 showed they regularly chat about drinking alcohol, smoking pot, partying and hooking up. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also concluded in 2010 that “Social networking sites provide information from teens on their personal experiences on how to get high with prescription drugs.” Lyon (2008) also observed that the Internet is also ripe with methods for users to defeat drug tests, some “downright dangerous.”

Actually obtaining illegal drugs online appears a smaller part of the overall cyber-effect on drug use. A U.S. government study noted that only .04% of persons aged 12 or older in 2008-2009 who used pain relievers nonmedically in the past 12 months obtained their drugs online. Nevertheless, a 2010 United Nations report reflected that India has… “emerged as a major source for illegal drugs trade on the Internet with narcotics smuggled via the country’s courier and postal services to the rest of the world.” The report further noted that illegal India firms, disguised as software companies, were allowing transactions of banned pharmaceutical preparations to be made over the Internet.

What does all this mean for the community corrections professional charged with supervising offenders with substance abuse issues? Consider the following suggestions:
  1. Do your own Internet research to see what is being discussed about use, production, and/or sale so you are better informed and know what to look for on your caseload;
  2. Request treatment providers explore with your offenders the role cyberspace plays in their substance abuse history, noting the areas cited by the NDIC (Use, Production, Sale);
  3. Stress, particularly for juvenile offenders, that the Internet can be a wealth of information, but not all of it is reliable. Believing information posted by some anonymous person on the effects of this drug or that or how to “safely” produce some mind alerting drug is fool-hearty. (Have a ready supply of news articles of the tragic results to back this up.);
  4. Periodically request credit card and bank statements to check for online drug purchases, particularly for offenders whose drugs of choice were prescription medications;
  5. Periodically check social networking profiles and do searches to see who offenders are associating with and what is being posted for evidence of drug use and/or efforts to defeat drug testing;
  6. Depending upon the circumstances consider searching or monitoring of computers, including mobile devices, to find online activity related to obtaining, producing, and/or selling drugs and defeating drug use monitoring efforts.

Over 25 years ago when my professional career started a drug user might steal a computer to later sell it to buy drugs. Now, thanks in large part to the Internet, computers are being used in a different manner to facilitate drug use. Community corrections officers must learn to adapt to the Information Age if they hope to keep up with the 21st Century substance abuser.


Boyer, E.; Shannon, M and Hibbert, P. “The Internet and Psychoactive Substance Use Among Innovative Drug Users” Pediatrics 2005, 115, 302-305

Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) “Chemicals Used in “Spice” and “K2″ Type Products Now Under Federal Control and Regulation”, Press Release

Drug Enforcement Adminstration (DEA) Hidden Dangers in Your Home, (2010)

Leinwand,D. “Teens use Internet to Share Drug Stories”“Teens use Internet to Share Drug Stories”, (2007) USA Today

Lindsay, L. ”Ways Teens Might Cheat on Drug Tests and How to Catch Them”, (2008) US News

National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) Information Bulletin: Drugs, Youth, and the Internet(2002)

Reuters, “Illegal Drug Trade via Internet on the Rise in India” (2010)

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies, Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings .

Visit "The Three C's (Computers, Crime & Corrections)" blog by Art Bowker

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  4. computerpo on 04/13/2011:

    RationalLaw, this was not a debate about the merits of whether to legalize or not legalize drug use. It was about giving community supervision officers some tools to deal with drug use with individuals on community supervision....cus they broke the law. Sure some may have been "just drug users"...but many also stole, hurt, or killed someone...cus they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. OR that is at least what the claimed. They want substance abuse treatment now that they have been convicted of breaking the law. Too many offenders commit crimes because they were under the influence of something, alcohol and/or drugs. If cigar become illegal I will put them down. Why? Because I don't need them. By the way, do we have any offenders who committed a crime cus they smoked cigars? NO...Again, read the blog article for its purpose to inform supervision officers who have to deal with those who abuse substances...who have a history of not being able to conduct themselves consistent with the law. We also don't need more drugs or imitation drugs on the market for minors to get hold of...or for offenders to give as an excuse for bad behavior..so they can get treatment as opposed going to prison. Substance abuse is a serious matter. Expanding it in the name of "freedom" is like handing out hand grendades to everyone as it is a free country. Freedom does not mean freedom from responsiblity.

  5. RationalLaw on 04/05/2011:

    Computerpro, whether you are a user or not, which you clearly are, it doesn't take but a few braincells to see how prohibition has NEVER worked and NEVER will work. Why do you want to go about antagonizing your profession with laws the people don't really want enforced? You like cigars but how would you like it we banned those as well? You only care about drug rights when it's the drug you use is prohibited. What selfish hypocrisy. You are probably from America I take it and one things Americans want to claim is that they want this country to be free. So why the hell would any of you support anti-freedom legislation that violates fundamental civil liberties? Are you that greedy to make an extra buck that you have to make BS laws to get your arrest and jail count up? Why don't you spend some time going after real crime? You know murder, rape, and that sort of thing? Maybe if folks like you focused more on that you would actually decrease violent/sex crimes. Go ahead and take your cigar puffs. When the state comes to take away those rights maybe then you'll understand the futility of your prohibitionist hypocrisy. Don't cry then. Since, after all.....as trends go cannabis is more likely to become legal while tobacco is gonna increasingly become more and more illegal. If you are going to ban JWH-018, JWH-073, JWH-200, CP-47,497, and cannabicyclohexanol, then you better ban alcohol and tobacco too! Which btw kills more people in one hour than these other 5 chemicals have killed in history. Which is only fewer than few ever, while alcohol kills hundreds of thousands every year. Tobacco over 500 million. Hell even heroin and cocaine could never hope to be such a good killer as tobacco and alcohol. If you want to learn how to be a real cop, not one that wants to rape civil liberties from the people in order to make an extra buck, go here; http://www.leap.cc/cms/index.php

  6. computerpo on 03/21/2011:

    Duncan20903, a fan of Charile Brown I see. Welcome! You are a poster person for how folks are reflecting their thoughts/ideas about substance abuse online. I mean posts on http://www.huffingtonpost.com/; http://www.opposingviews.com/; http://www.thestranger.com/, at least, all appear to be in favor of marijuana legalization. We had the sex offenders posting like crazy a few weeks ago...now it is time for the drug users to get on board. Have at it! Do you have any other pearls of wisdom to through out between "puffs"?....for me that is cigars.

  7. duncan20903 on 03/21/2011:

    The Internet is also great for finding out which fantasies that Law Enforcement is subscribing to this week. Keep up the great work, we all need a good laugh now and then.

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