Combining Internet monitoring processes, packaging and isotopic analyses to determine the market structure: example of Gamma Butyrolactone

Forensic Sci Int. 2013 Jul 10;230(1-3):29-36. doi: 10.1016/j.forsciint.2013.02.033. Epub 2013 Mar 22.


The Internet is becoming more and more popular among drug users. The use of websites and forums to obtain illicit drugs and relevant information about the means of consumption is a growing phenomenon mainly for new synthetic drugs. Gamma Butyrolactone (GBL), a chemical precursor of Gamma Hydroxy Butyric acid (GHB), is used as a "club drug" and also in drug facilitated sexual assaults. Its market takes place mainly on the Internet through online websites but the structure of the market remains unknown. This research aims to combine digital, physical and chemical information to help understand the distribution routes and the structure of the GBL market. Based on an Internet monitoring process, thirty-nine websites selling GBL, mainly in the Netherlands, were detected between January 2010 and December 2011. Seventeen websites were categorized into six groups based on digital traces (e.g. IP addresses and contact information). In parallel, twenty-five bulk GBL specimens were purchased from sixteen websites for packaging comparisons and carbon isotopic measurements. Packaging information showed a high correlation with digital data confirming the links previously established whereas chemical information revealed undetected links and provided complementary information. Indeed, while digital and packaging data give relevant information about the retailers, the supply routes and the distribution close to the consumer, the carbon isotopic data provides upstream information about the production level and in particular the synthesis pathways and the chemical precursors. A three-level structured market has been thereby identified with a production level mainly located in China and in Germany, an online distribution level mainly hosted in the Netherlands and the customers who order on the Internet.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't