Drug dealers on the dark web have been advertising chloroquine after U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly touted the closely related hydroxychloroquine as a potential coronavirus treatment.
Listings are on numerous sites including Empire Market, one of the dark web’s most prominent sources for illicit goods. One popular vendor, who has a 98% positive rating among buyers, is advertising 50 250-milligram pills, allegedly sourced from India, for $59. The dealer’s description for chloroquine, an anti-malaria drug, cites Trump by name.
Health professionals have said no strong evidence shows hydroxychloroquine, also known by its brand name Plaquenil, is safe or effective in treating COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.
Dark web advertisements follow Trump’s coronavirus claims
The Empire Market listing, first reported by the Daily Beast, is one of around a dozen to appear across drug sites over the last few weeks. Dark web researcher and author of The Darkest Web Eileen Ormsby told the Daily Dot the posts have only grown.
“Drug dealers on the dark web have seized on Trump’s claim that chloroquine could be used to treat COVID-19, with listings popping up on the most popular dark-net markets,” Ormsby said.
Trump brought widespread attention to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine with frequent references during his televised White House coronavirus press conferences. Trump has also mentioned hydroxychloroquine on Twitter.
“HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” Trump tweeted in March.
Increased demand has led to some shortages of the drug, which individuals with autoimmune diseases such as lupus also use.
A vendor on the dark web drug site Whitehouse Market is advertising 100 pills of chloroquine for $90. Users can pay with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin or monero. The dealer labeled the chloroquine a “miracle drug for coronavirus.”
Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine investigated as coronavirus treatments
Although clinical trials are underway to see whether the drug can be useful, many appear unwilling to wait.
NBC News reported last month that an Arizona man recently died after ingesting a treatment for fish that contained chloroquine phosphate. His wife, who also drank the substance but survived, told NBC they heard Trump talk about hydroxychloroquine and drank the chloroquine to try to prevent the coronavirus.
A small study in France found hydroxychloroquine appeared to be helpful in clearing the coronavirus when taken alongside an antibiotic. But a controlled trial in China found the drug did nothing to improve recovery from COVID-19.
The FDA did, however, issue an emergency authorization allowing doctors to treat COVID-19 with chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in certain circumstances. But, as with any drug, consulting one’s primary physician is absolutely necessary prior to starting a new medication.
Given the high demand, a dealer with a 92% approval rating on Empire Market has promoted chloroquine in other drug listings.
“CORONAVIRUS medication on SALE!! HOT RED DIAMOND XTC Pills 300mg 10-250x,” a post for the street drug ecstasy said.
Despite the emphasis, chloroquine has proven largely unpopular so far in comparison to regular illicit street drugs. At time of publication, no listing for the medication has reported more than 11 sales.