Author: Justin Mckibben
Ross Ulbricht, AKA “Dead Pirate Roberts” (DPR) is a name I’ve written about several times before. He is the founder of the original Silk Road, and for those of you who have no idea what the means, it is the massively successful online drug marketplace referred to as the ‘Amazon.com of Drugs’ that was taken down a while back and has since been mimicked and replaced with other online markets, that have also been shut down and replaced in a seemingly endless cycle of greed measured in bitcoin and gigbytes.
This past Friday, May 29th 2015 the cycle may have ended permanently for Ulbricht, as he was in a New York courtroom claiming he was a changed man, looking for some semblance of redemption, or at least a little leeway, but this time there was no fire-wall or spy-ware to protect him. Not too many people are buying what the defense team for Ulbricht was trying to sell, as their newest attempt to lessen his prison time was on the grounds of “harm reduction.”
Ulbricht’s legal team asked the judge to consider Silk Road as a place that significantly reduced the danger of drug use to the user on the grounds that it created a format where several factors associated with the drug trade were replaced with a system which let customers have control over their deals in safety.
Ulbricht’s lawyer Joshua Dratel stated in the filing:
“..Transactions on the Silk Road web site were significantly safer than traditional illegal drug purchases, and included quality control and accountability features that made purchasers substantially safer than they were when purchasing drugs in a conventional manner.”
Dratel described Silk Road as if it was a unique application of harm reduction, which is typically associated with needle exchange programs and anti-overdose kits being distributed as a method of reducing the problems associated with drug use on the street.
It isn’t entirely untrue, but even the top 4 factors that could be considered to be relatable to harm reduction, when you take a closer look, could be considered a little contrived.
- Less Danger?
For anyone who has ever bought drugs, there is obviously some element of danger commonly associated with these transactions. Of course it depends of what you buy and where, from who. Buying heroin off the corner could easily get you robbed, even assaulted or injured. So you are reducing some harm by purchasing it via the web and having it shipped to your house.
On the flip side- just because it is a ‘safer’ drug deal because the environment is less likely to get you robbed or ripped off doesn’t mean it is harm reduction, right? It’s still a drug deal. Spreading it out over the servers doesn’t justify it. The judge shot this logic down, saying:
“Silk Road was about fulfilling demand….about creating demand.”
In other words there would be no harm to reduce without Silk Road creating the dark web drug den and supplying drugs.
Harm reduction is typically about giving people safer means by which to do the drugs they are already buying, not providing them easier access to the substance itself.
Then there is the fact that even though the last stop in the chain of transactions was a little safer, it doesn’t mean that the cartels trafficking drugs, the conditions where they are grown or made, or the enterprises being funded by drug money (such as ISIS or other terrorist groups) are any ‘safer’ in the process. There is still plenty of risk to go around.
- Quality Control?
Then there is the idea that Silk Road was harm reduction because it created its own level of quality control, introducing several components that seemed to make dealers accountable. The digital drug expo featured Ebay style ratings and review boards where crowd-sourced information about drugs and dealers allowed customers to feel safer from the danger of buying tampered with products.
Thus the community trusted the dealers being logged and recorded as quality business men.
But again, all this does is feed into the demand. It doesn’t really reduce anything but a drug users doubts that they will get what they want for the right Bitcoin (hacker money).
- Safety Tips?
This one actually makes some sense. Silk Road featured crowd-funded advice about drug use, including:
- How to ‘fix’ drugs properly (how to use certain drugs certain ways)
- What to expect on your first time using
- What to do in case of overdose
There is no doubt that this could be potentially lifesaving information for people committed to illegal drug use.
Some forums included medical advice from physicians themselves. Ulbricht even tried to keep Silk Road ‘safe’ by paying $500 a week to the infamous Dr. X, who was himself a self-identified drug user who regularly answered questions from users about the harms or merits of taking both legal and illegal drugs.
Dr. X’s real name is Dr. Fernando Caudevilla and he described this aspect as harm reduction.
Considering that this element of the site was designed to keep users safe by providing medical information and allowing for open communication about drug use, it can run parallel to the strategies other legitimate harm reduction campaigns use to keep users informed and medically supported.
And yet… not everyone felt it was effective enough. Emotional statements at the hearing came from the parents of drug users who had overdosed and died from drugs purchased from the Silk Road, many called for the longest sentence the law would allow.
The aims of Silk Road were initially governed by a strict code of ethics. Early visitors of the site lobbied DPR to allow complete freedom for any transaction, but Ulbricht was adamant about his principal… at least at first. He stated:
“Our basic rules are to treat others as you would wish to be treated and don’t do anything to hurt or scam someone else.”
This meant no sales of a more sinister nature, such as:
- Child pornography
- Stolen goods
- Fraudulent degrees or IDs
Though this was a firm founding ideal, it appears most of these items were for sale when the site was finally shut down.
At the end of the day Ulbricht was found guilty last month of 7 offenses he was charged with, including a “kingpin” charge that puts the 31-year-old hacker from Texas up there with mafia dons and drug cartel leaders.
Judge Katherine Forrest gave Ulbricht the most severe sentence possible, beyond what even the prosecution had explicitly requested. The minimum Ulbricht could have served was 20 years, but the judge sentenced him to life in prison… without the possibility of parole.
In addition to his prison sentence, Ulbricht was also ordered to pay restitution of more than $183 million, what the prosecution had estimated to be the total sales of illegal drugs and counterfeit IDs through the dark web hot spot. As the judge passed down the sentence she said:
“You are no better a person than any other drug dealer.”
Of course his defense team is already preparing for their appeal, and this is surely one story we will be hearing about for a while.
In my own opinion: The very idea that they are trying to call this harm reduction is just a little (or a lot) absurd. Creating a dark web market of drug dealers to push raw opium, various illicit plants and pills for massive amounts of money, while claiming to be beyond the laws of the nation, and even trying to pay tens of thousands for the murder of half a dozen people is not exactly the ideal model of harm reduction.
Real harm reduction can help a lot of people. Drug addiction is a perilous and powerful disease, but harm reduction is one way that thousands of people are trying to help those suffering, while treatment facilities develop innovative and life-saving recovery strategies. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
This little bit on controversy about whether it is appropriate for a toy store to carry a drug dealing, gun toting, cancer patient action figure or not, and in all honesty is seems like both sides got somewhat of a point. The toy gold mine, the paradise for children and immature adults alike that is the Toys “R” Us company has been criticized recently by factions of parents for selling a range of Walter White drug dealer dolls based on the television series Breaking Bad, possibly one of the greatest shows of ever.
What’s the Big Deal?
These six-inch figures as of right now sell for $17.99, even though soon they will probably be a collector’s item. The action figure portrays the Breaking Bad main character Walter White (AKA Heisenberg) portrayed by Brian Cranston, a notorious drug dealer, in three different variations. One is even clutching a gun with a detachable bag of cash and blue rocks of the drug crystal meth.
Another form of the action figure is dressed in a Hazmat protective suit. The dolls are being sold as part of a deal with Sony Pictures Television, in Toys “R” Us’s “collectable” selection, and are intended to be marketing to adults and children over than 14 years old.
Why is Breaking Bad so…Bad?
What is Breaking Bad? I’m almost insulted if anyone really has to ask that question, but I’ll answer it anyway. It is the insanely popular TV drama series based on a high school chemistry teacher Walter White, played by Bryan Cranston, who after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, goes into business with a former student. The student Jesse Pinkham is portrayed by Aaron Paul, and together the two begin producing and selling the dangerous and deadly crystal meth in order to make money for his family before Walter White eventually dies from his illness.
The series ended last year, despite my angry letters and bribes to the studios, and has won a stock-pile of Emmys and other awards, but what is part of the controversy is that Breaking Bad is known for its intense dramatic plot and sometimes shockingly violent scenes.
Mothers Move on the One Who Knocks
In spite of the age range being marketed at over 14 years old, parents took to action on the Toys “R” Us Facebook page to say that they did not want their teenagers, even at 15 years old, to be exposed to drug dealing.
And as more and more of these such complaints piled on, now one furious Fort Myers mother named Susan Schrivjer has established an online petition on the website Change.org called “Remove Breaking Bad dolls from their shelves” urging Toys “R” Us to act and get rid of these new action figures, which states:
“Toys “R” Us is well known around the world for their vast selection of toys for children of all ages. However their decision to sell a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys is a dangerous deviation from their family friendly values. That’s why I’m calling on Toys “R” Us to immediately stop selling theBreaking Bad doll collection in their stores and on their website.”
Surprisingly, the petition has started to gain momentum almost as fast as the show did after season 2, having already received more than 2,300 signatures! Mrs. Schrivjer went on to make a personal statement:
“While the show may be compelling viewing for adults, its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.
“Parents and grandparents around the world shop at Toys R Us, online and in stories, with their children and should not be forced to explain why a certain toy comes with a bag of highly dangerous and illegal drugs or why someone who sells those drugs deserves to be made into an action figure.”
The biggest argument at this point being that because the item is sold in the same building as children’s toy heroes like Batman or My Little Pony and that seems to taint some peoples view of the Toys “R” Us empire.
Breaking Bad Strikes Back
A Toys “R” Us spokesman told NBC News:
“The product packaging clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up. The toys are located in the adult action figure area of our stores.”
Bryan Cranston, upset by the crusade that the Florida mom had taken up against his character and the product he put so much talent into, took to Twitter today and responded to these scandalous accusations in what was at the very least a comical retort. The Twitter post shows why Heisenberg IS THE DANGER, as he stated:
“Florida mom petitions against Toys ‘R Us over Breaking Bad action figures.” I’m so mad, I’m burning my Florida Mom action figure in protest
Like most of these types of controversies it starts to border between what is the company responsible for, and what are PARENTS responsible for? The general idea being that no child should know who the characters are enough to go looking for the doll, and if they do, than that starts at home with what they are allowed to watch on television.
At the same time you have to wonder is it OK for there to be tiny toy bags of crystal meth, a dangerous and devastating drug that destroys the lives of everyone it touches, mixed in with toy-boxes across America? Is it promoting the production and use of drugs to a younger demographic? We do have to be aware of these possibilities, and be aware of the consequences that can arise from letting children be exposed to the idea that drugs are exciting, popular, and acceptable. Crystal meth is nothing to play around with, and Breaking Bad gave us 5 seasons to prove it.
I think at the end of the day, it is up to the parents. Parents need to be aware of what their kids are watching, and what their kids are doing. I’m sure no 10 year old will be able to purchase the doll on their own or make any sense out of it, and for teens around the age of 14 there should already be some work done at home to help them understand. Walter White will tell you, if you don’t know who you’re dealing with, tread lightly.
Regardless of whether you take it seriously or not, having an action figure of a drug dealer that could be charged with possession seems like it should be kept out of reach of children, and maybe anyone in recovery who considers toys a trigger. All jokes aside though, the reality of drug addiction is nothing to play around with. Crystal meth is a poisonous and powerful drug, and it eats away at the person, their mind, and their life. But no matter how long the battle or how strong the drug, recovery is possible, and even more incredible. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135. We want to help. You are not alone.
The war on drugs in South Florida has had quite a few notable victories as of recently, and this story is one of those cases that took a little time to conclude, but will make an impact on the community in Delray Beach. 38 year old Delray Beach resident by the name of Andrae Marquis Waters was booked into jail this past Friday, suspected as being the leader of what local authorities would later describe as a “well-organized narcotics trafficking organization”. Police stated they started their detailed investigation back in March of 2013. Following an investigation that lasted more than a year, according to a Delray Beach Police arrest report, finally the supposed head of operations Andrae Marquis Waters has been taken into custody.
Andrae Marquis Waters Drug Trafficking Organization
Agents directly involved so far refer to the operation simply as the Andrae Marquis Waters Drug Trafficking Organization, and report that this narcotics ring was involved in the distribution of crack cocaine in Delray Beach and the surrounding area through an intricate chain of main and street-level dealers, lookouts and a main supplier. Once purchased through the supplier the cocaine was cooked into crack-cocaine and packaged at an apartment near the Youthland Academy on the 600 block of Auburn Avenue in Delray Beach.
Kenell Pierre is suspected as the source through which the cocaine sold by the organization was supplied. Police stated Kenell Pierre would carry out drug transactions with Andrae Marquis Waters at businesses located around West Palm Beach where Pierre lives such as gas stations and fast food restaurants. Pierre was sentenced in May and is currently serving a four-year sentence for drug trafficking.
One of the most helpful tactics used in the investigation were the two phones used in the organization that had been tapped by the authorities for around two months, starting back in October. These wiretaps of the two phones we authorized by a judge, and utilized for police to listen in on conversations and transactions between Andrae Marquis Waters and others. This way they could track and record several drug deals from October to December. This abundance of information leads to a 28 page long arrest report.
Throughout the investigation undercover officers had made a few efforts to set up and execute a few purchases for crack-cocaine from one of Waters’ distributors in November of last year. In one deal in particular set to take place in a Wendy’s fast food parking lot an agent waited to complete a buy from one of the networks dealers. Unfortunately this dealer told the officer “something wasn’t right” and walked away from the transaction, making that a dead end sting for the officers. However the operation continued and 5 days later a SWAT team executed a search warrant at the Auburn Avenue apartment and found Waters hiding in the bathroom. According to the police report Andrae Marquis Waters admitted to the agents he had been in the kitchen at the time cooking crack-cocaine.
At the time he was originally only arrested on two charges and Waters was later released after only one day in jail. Later on when he was arrested investigators had accumulated an astonishing 71 charges against Andrae Marquis Waters. The suspected leader of a narcotics network is now facing charges for cocaine selling, trafficking and other drug charges. He is currently being held in Palm Beach County Jail with a price-tag on his bail of $645,000. With a tab like that hopefully he will be in custody long enough for the trial to run its course, and if all goes well this specific organization will be eliminated in this South Florida community.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
The truth is sometimes much more simple than the stigma. But one must wonder when will the veil be lifted, and the prospect of drug-dealers, criminals and addiction not be limited to specific people, places and social backgrounds. It has been proven time and time again that the stereotypes we usually see in the media or in our own expectations are not reliable and often dangerous because it blinds us to the real ugly side of suburbia, politics, and today’s drug culture.
Stigma and Stereotypes in Social Media
One example of stereotypes actively working in the community that is publicly being exposed, and to an extent ignored, is the case of Kenneth Lewis who is an assistant state attorney for Orange and Osceola County as part of the Florida prosecutor’s office. Mr. Lewis has been stirring up a lot of stigma and controversy of his own regarding social media posts that included him referring to drug addicts as “crack hoes” and suggesting that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was appointed only due to affirmative action.
Lewis admitted to writing a Facebook post on May 11 that said:
“Happy Mother’s Day to all the crack hoes out there. It’s never too late to turn it around, tie your tubes, clean up your life and make a difference to someone out there that deserves a better mother.”
He apologized for the posts including the one saying: “Reason enough why no country should ever engage in the practice of Affirmative Action again. This could be the result. Where would she be if she didn’t hit the quota lottery? Here’s a hint: ‘Would you like to supersize that sir?” accompanied a picture of Sotomayor.
While these statements feed into the negative stigmas of drug addiction being exclusive to poor people and bad areas, as well as racial undertones, Lewis’ superiors have not punished him on the basis he does have a freedom of speech that his office has no right to police. But maybe what makes this worse is that despite the public outcry both controversial posts remain active on Lewis’ Facebook page.
So while he has issued a few fleeting words of apology, he has yet to be penalized in any form for the outstanding remarks he made, and again this instance gives power to the stigma that only poor people, terrible mothers, and ‘crack hoes’ are addicts, and that specific races only get their jobs through affirmative action. Lewis said he hoped his posts would be “inspirational”, because we all know nothing inspires an impoverished minority like stigma!
Drug Dealers in Suburbia
Then there is the case of young Caucasian drug-dealers from the suburbs. One particular case that comes to mind is that of Owen Merton Barber IV, Daniel Petrole Jr., and Justin Michael Wolfe.Who in their early 20’s were jet-setting to Hawaii or Atlantic City to buy $200,000 townhouses with money earned building a drug empire in rich schools and “nice, safe” neighborhoods which went completely unquestioned by their families until it was too late. Eventually, Barber murdered Petrole, allegedly at the request of Wolfe. DEA agent Frank Chellino stated on of the boys accused seemed “well-mannered” and “stable.” No one suspected a thing. These same kinds of descriptions were given to the other boys involved. This noteworthy drug enterprise was run by former soccer-playing little leaguers who society admires as upstanding citizens and all-American boys.
All these young men were portrayed in the media as educated boys ‘gone bad’. The issue of crime in stories like this becomes a human interest piece riddled with “how could this happen?” and “what were they going through?” questions. The public is encouraged to identify with the suspects and murderers who come from rich white areas, and they are characterized by stories of charity, family, and religion to induce sympathy and recognition, but when this story plays out with the typical ‘poor person’ or minority individual it is not a ‘good kid gone bad’ it’s more like a ‘bad kid gone worse’.
An associate of the boys under investigation explained,
“American society doesn’t want to face the fact that white kids deal and use drugs. They simply can’t look in my face and see that a nice-looking white kid is selling drugs to their kids, because that would mean that their kids could do this too. The fact is we do sell drugs to their kids, in their rich neighborhoods and in their rich schools.”
- Whites are 66% of 18-25 year olds, 70% of young drug users.
- Blacks are 13.5% of18-25 year olds, 13% of young drug users.
- Hispanics are nearly 15% of 18-25 year olds, 12% of young drug users.
According to the Justice Department, drug users tend to buy from same-race dealers. So when you do the math nearly 3/4 of users who are white would primarily rely on white dealers, not the Jamaicans or Dominicans of popular imagery.
Ultimately while society often suspects that drug-dealers and drug addicts all fall into the stereotypes of poor, degenerate, ‘crack hoes’, or minority individuals, the truth is the majority of drug dealers in America are not what you would suspect to see on a cop show, and even the addicts are not always what you would guess from the movies. Anyone these days can be a suspect. Not just the usual suspects. The description should be expanded, and the ‘boy next door’ who has drug money in his closet and is dating the DEA director’s daughter (actual FACT from the story mentioned above) should not be underestimated.
The real truth of the matter is that your typical drug user is NOT the impoverished minority. It is NOT the welfare queen. It is young, white, suburban males. Yet, all too often, we act like these cases are the exception, not the norm.
Addiction has no social barriers. It is an equal opportunity disease. And the substance used DOES NOT MATTER. For too long, we’ve deemed certain substances “acceptable” to abuse while others are “unacceptable.” It’s okay, we seem to say, to drink excessively, but marijuana’s different. Cocaine is upscale; crack is whack. Prescription pills are understandable, but only “real” addicts use heroin.
We’re focused on the symptoms, not the problem. We’re saying one type of substance abuse is “better” or “different” than another. That this addiction is different than that addiction. We’re qualifying, and we’re getting lost. The disease is the same. The substance is merely the symptom. No one wants to be an addict when they grow up. Let’s break down the stigma, and let’s start talking about the solution. #nomoreshame
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
The drug-dealing pharmacist by the name Ashish J. Patel, a 35 year old who was accused of selling Oxycodone pills to an undercover detective, has now been found guilty of several charges including drug trafficking. The Florida Department of Health website stated there was an emergency order issued suspending his license, and the trial was short lived with what some may call swift justice.
In August 2012, an undercover detective working with the investigation against Patel included on the arrest report that she had been able to purchase 80 Oxycodone pills from Patel without a valid prescription. The detective took a prescription written for 30 Oxycontin pills to the Med Express Rx pharmacy, the prescription was written by a dentist in Lakeland who was working in cooperation with law enforcement. When the undercover detective arrived at the pharmacy, she handed the prescription to Ashish Patel of Valrico and asked him to change the prescription to Oxycodone. The undercover detective also filled in a blank, signed prescription that was given to her by the dentist, for 30 Oxycodone 30 mg pills. Although Patel made several comments about how unusual it was for a dentist to write these prescriptions, and noted that the handwriting on one, which had been filled out by the detective, was different than the other.
At first, Patel negotiated the sale of 80 of the pills altogether to the undercover officer. According to the report filed he sold the detective 50 pills, advising her to come back the following day to collect the other 20 pills, because initially the agreement was for a total of 70 pills. However later on when the detective returned, Patel told the detective that she still owed him more money for the 20 pills, at which time according to the report he agreed to sell her another 10 pills. The undercover detective “reluctantly agreed to pay additional money” for the 20 pills, as well as additional paying for the other 10 pills. In total, Patel received around $1,540 to distribute the dangerous amount of Oxycodone to the ‘customer’. All the interactions with Patel were audio recorded as noted by the undercover officer, and included as evidence. During the negotiation, Patel asked the detective to roll the windows down on her car so he could see inside and confirm there was nobody in the car with her. He also asked her if she was a law enforcement officer. The transactions of Oxycodone pills took place at the pharmacy, which is within 1,000 feet of a day care facility.
The Courts Ruling
Judge Wayne Durden ordered that Patel remain in jail pending a sentencing hearing July 11. Patel was arrested back in September of 2012 following an investigation by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Ashish Patel was apparently the part owner of Med Express Rx on Shepherd Road according to officials at the Sheriff’s Office. The appointed jury spent less than an hour deliberating the charges and evidence before finding Patel guilty as charged of trafficking in illegal drugs, possession of oxycodone with intent to sell, possession of a structure used for trafficking, sale or manufacture of controlled substances. The charge of trafficking in illegal drugs carries a mandatory minimum sentence of three years in prison. However Ashish Patel could ultimately face far more time in prison, as the total maximum penalty for all of these offenses adds up to a 90 year prison sentence.
“He’s pushing drugs, illegally. He knew exactly what he was doing,” said Sheriff Grady Judd, who announced the arrest initially. Ashish had been arrested during a 3 part sting operation that had also took down other pharmacists and dentists in the area.
“We expect to find dope dealers in the streets selling drugs. What we don’t expect is to find licensed professionals selling drugs,” Sheriff Grady Judd went on to say in an interview with local news. The sheriff went on to state that he believes the problem to be one that is widespread throughout the region.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135