Background: Prescription opioid diversion and abuse are major public health issues in the United States and internationally. Street prices of diverted prescription opioids can provide an indicator of drug availability, demand, and abuse potential, but these data can be difficult to collect. Crowdsourcing is a rapid and cost-effective way to gather information about sales transactions. We sought to determine whether crowdsourcing can provide accurate measurements of the street price of diverted prescription opioid medications.
Objective: To assess the possibility of crowdsourcing black market drug price data by cross-validation with law enforcement officer reports.
Methods: Using a crowdsourcing research website (StreetRx), we solicited data about the price that site visitors paid for diverted prescription opioid analgesics during the first half of 2012. These results were compared with a survey of law enforcement officers in the Researched Abuse, Diversion, and Addiction-Related Surveillance (RADARS) System, and actual transaction prices on a "dark Internet" marketplace (Silk Road). Geometric means and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for comparing prices per milligram of drug in US dollars. In a secondary analysis, we compared prices per milligram of morphine equivalent using standard equianalgesic dosing conversions.
Results: A total of 954 price reports were obtained from crowdsourcing, 737 from law enforcement, and 147 from the online marketplace. Correlations between the 3 data sources were highly linear, with Spearman rho of 0.93 (P<.001) between crowdsourced and law enforcement, and 0.98 (P<.001) between crowdsourced and online marketplace. On StreetRx, the mean prices per milligram were US$3.29 hydromorphone, US$2.13 buprenorphine, US$1.57 oxymorphone, US$0.97 oxycodone, US$0.96 methadone, US$0.81 hydrocodone, US$0.52 morphine, and US$0.05 tramadol. The only significant difference between data sources was morphine, with a Drug Diversion price of US$0.67/mg (95% CI 0.59-0.75) and a Silk Road price of US$0.42/mg (95% CI 0.37-0.48). Street prices generally followed clinical equianalgesic potency.
Conclusions: Crowdsourced data provide a valid estimate of the street price of diverted prescription opioids. The (ostensibly free) black market was able to accurately predict the relative pharmacologic potency of opioid molecules.
Keywords: Internet; RADARS System; Silk Road; StreetRx; black market; crowdsourcing; drug abuse; economics; law enforcement; opioids; police; surveillance.