Author: Justin Mckibben
It seems most of the nation has finally had their eyes opened to the reality of the situation, there is a very real heroin epidemic in America. This is a sometimes inconspicuous but still intense illness that affects all people, across gender, socioeconomic, age, and ethnic lines. And that’s becoming more and more apparent as a heroin and other opiates continue to take lives in homes across every cultural barrier.
But where did it come from? What caused it and who is to blame?
We could point the proverbial finger at the over-prescribing or crooked doctors, or we could point it at the patients.
We could blame the pharmaceutical tyrants or the faltering politicians that allowed them to run rampant for so long.
We could definitely find some fault in the war in Afghanistan and the policies from a War on Drugs that has failed miserably.
Indeed we should blame all these things.
There is an abundance of reasons we have a heroin/opiate epidemic in this country, and plenty of blame to go around, but let us just focus on one in particular today; the internet!
Easy Access Online
As much as we love them internets, we have to also give it its due responsibility for this plague on our people. The internet created a forum for easy access to prescription drugs without a doctor’s approval, and it can be so easy it is no wonder the epidemic didn’t get worse faster.
According to some reports, all one needs to do to fully understand the complexity of the internet’s black market selling pharmaceutical drugs illegally is to go to StreetRx.com.
This website actually gathers user-submitted information across the country on street prices of diverted prescription drugs, as well as illicit drugs.
Reviews of the site attest that users can anonymously view, post and rate submissions in a format offering price transparency to an otherwise cloudy underground marketplace.
The information provided on this site is actually quite detailed. Just a few examples of information one might find includes:
- $60 Reasonable OxyContin (hard to crush) 60 mg Hartford, CT
- $25 Cheap OxyContin (old OC-crushable) 20 mg Wiscasset, ME
- $3.75 Reasonable Methadone 10 mg Hartford, CT
- $15 Pricey Oxycodone 15 mg Burlington, VT
- $3 Overpriced Oxycodone 5 mg Providence, RI
- $10 Overpriced Dilaudid 2 mg Worcester MA
Evolution of the Dark Web
The Dark Web has seen some serious exposure lately after the arrest of infamous digital drug dealer Ross Ulbricht AKA “Dread Pirate Roberts” who had created the vast online drug den known as Silk Road before being tracked down and having the site dismantled.
Still, plenty of smartphone apps like Instagram have been manipulated for facilitating illegal transactions and making connections with dealers, and plenty of other drugs are bought online through sites just like Silk Road.
The luxury and simplicity by which one can unlawfully purchase mind altering drugs with just a simple click of the mouse has made a substantial contribution and propelled the heroin epidemic. As a result, prescription opiate painkillers are very easily obtained and once someone gets hooked on them for long enough many will switch to heroin, because these days the drug is only getting more pure and cheaper.
Considering this, you can forget what you thought you knew about how this drug has evolved and who the primary consumer it. A heroin addict looks nothing like what most used to assume. Now heroin is a white suburban disease, with women in their 20’s and 30’s among the most rapidly increasing group of heroin users.
Changing the Status
The internet, social media and online shopping have all done their part to turn this virtual world into a viscerally disturbing reality of drugs and disease. But not all the blame should be placed on the internet, and in many ways it has done some good. By utilizing blogs, chat forums, videos and social media there are various organizations and authorities who have taken to the internet to create efforts for raising awareness. Message boards and even hashtags (#) have been linked to these movements to share information and provide resources.
And of course, how could we talk about the internet as if it doesn’t provide us with this versatile platform to have this conversation?
Heroin overdose is killing in rapid numbers, and there is no spyware or control-alt-delete answer for it. But more than the internet is to blame, we have to stop looking around for places to point the finger and ask ourselves what we have done to contribute to a healthy and fruitful future for this country. Click, like and share that.
As a society using the internet for so much of our communication and information, it is no wonder that it has made drug dealing and addiction a more “convenient” and consistent trend. With it comes death in devastating numbers, but it doesn’t have to be. There is help for those who want it. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
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
Silk Road was originally an internet black market used for digital drug dealing to be utilized for people to make massive sales and purchases without having to take the average dealers risk of riding around with large quantities of narcotics in their car, or meeting in shady alleys.
While the first Silk Road was shut down some time ago following an extensive investigation and the operator arrested, there was a new version that went online and active to take up the mantel, which has thankfully been put to an end as soon as possible.
The end of the line came up relatively quickly for Silk Road 2.0, a secretive online drugs marketplace created and modeled after the original “Amazon.com of drugs”. The plug was recently pulled on the second generation Silk Road 2.0. Today, the FBI announced they’ve put a swift and effective end to the second installment of the illicit drugs website, and taken its alleged owner, 26-year-old Blake Benthall, into custody.
The Illicit Legacy
The illegal Dark Web, which is only accessible by volunteer-operated encrypted networks like Tor, always attracts many “freedom-loving” types including libertarians, hackers and anarchists, as well as criminals of all kinds looking to make a change to their own enterprises through a ‘safer’ forum.
When the FBI arrested Ulbritch in 2013 he was placed in custody and faced trial on charges including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking, and even conspiracy to commit murder.
During the brief absence of Silk Road rival marketplaces such as Agora and Evolution continued to operate. Agora quickly became the new standard for online drug transactions. Its main competitor, Black Market Reloaded, was shut down in November 2013 after its source code was leaked. After that, Sheep was the main competitor until it too went under—and stole a treasure in users’ bitcoin.
A big part of Black Market Reloaded’s success came from its willingness to sell lethal weapons, including dynamite and other explosives. Silk Road had no objection to offering a wide range of merchandise, but that site drew the line at weapons.
Passing the Torch
Silk Road 2.0 developed and went viral within a matter of weeks after owner Ross Ulbritch, known by the online alias “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was arrested in October of last year. Benthall, who is known online as “Defcon,” began operating Silk Road 2.0 that December, only a month after the site was launched by a co-conspirator who remains un-identified at this time. Given the nature of the crime and the collective evidence against “Defcon” the charges against Benthall could carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Ross “Dread Pirate Roberts” Ulbritch had initially created Silk Road as a way to try and avoid the dangers typically associated with the sale and trafficking of illegal narcotics. Ulbritch’s end-game was to transform an infamously violent industry into a safe online marketplace for safe and lucrative business by removing the risk of face-to-face transactions with what he called “humanity’s first truly free, anonymous, unbiased marketplace.”
Transactions through this kind of Dark Web black-market style sites are made using Bitcoins and the websites operate in the shady areas of the Internet that are not indexed and therefore not easily obtainable by standard search engines. Other illicit services that were sold through this class of websites included everything from hacking-tools to hit-men.
The Investigation Information
According to the information collected during the investigation it was recorded that as of this past September, prosecutors claim that Silk Road 2.0 was generating at least an astounding $8 million a month. Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement:
“Let’s be clear – this Silk Road, in whatever form, is the road to prison.”
Benthall has entered a plea of not guilty as of this point. He is currently scheduled for trial in New York in January. In the meantime, many are wondering if this only means we will be expecting these hackers and digital drug dealers to upgrade their systems and strategies, and if so how long until we see the arrival of Silk Road 3.0.
While the digital age of drug dealing presents new problems for those who are fighting the war on drugs, it also presents a new problem for those struggling to overcome the disease of addiction. There have been several developments on how social media and the Dark Web intend to make drug dealing as easy as a download, but that puts more who have drug problems at even greater risk. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135
Author: Justin Mckibben
I have been writing a lot lately on the dangers we are now facing as a society in this digital age. The “Generation D” faces a lot of issues that are unique to this time-period, as more and more technology develops. Websites and even Instagram accounts are used to sell drugs, and now there has been some effort to trace which nations deal most in what.
The infamous “Dark Web” also called the “Deep Web” is the like the Amazon.com or Ebay.com for illicit goods, accessibly only through backdoor software and encrypted networks, where your skilled hacker and other tech-smart individuals can get their hands on all types of illegal merchandise, and have it priority mailed with total anonymity.
What is the “Dark Web”
The first time many people heard of the infamous “Dark Web”, which is the entire area of the Internet compiled of sites that cannot be accessed via standard search engines, and requires a little more skill, was when “Silk Road” was taken down around a year ago. “Silk Road” was at the time history’s most notorious online flea market for illegal substances, and apparently an estimated $1.2 billion business model. The illusive internet drug kingpin who ran it went by the name “Dread Pirate Roberts“, who eventually was revealed to be Ross William Ulbricht. This 29-year-old University of Texas graduate allegedly responsible for mass amounts of online drug trafficking plead not guilty to several charges last month and is due to stand trial this coming November.
Through sites like these people can find everything that would otherwise be a bit of a bother to get ahold of. You can get something as simple as a fake ID, or even guns, but the most common currency here on the cyber-marketplace is drugs. Since the “Silk Road” was dismantled by the FBI last year, many people expected the digital drug market to die off. Unfortunately new internet market-places have stepped in to corner that market. With names like “Silk Road 2” it seems they definitely intended to fill the gap, but they will be looking at the same kind of crackdown once the site is infiltrated. While dealers remain anonymous, so far that has not proven to be to foolproof.
Though drugs on the “Dark Web” are sold anonymously, Vocative.com found a way to remarkably sort and categorize each drug dealer through the locations from which items are shipped, which allowed them to compile some graphs which illustrate which countries many of these narcotic products originate in, and which countries have more of a reputation for specific substances as far as this market goes.
Now these numbers are not exact, and the statistics do not include all of the other illegal drug deals happening off of the internet around the world. This is not meant to show who should take the most credit, but it does raise an eyebrow as to how this type of trade is effective in several different countries, and in which nation are websites like these taken advantage of most.
What Countries Sold What
Again, this data is not absolutely complete. First one has to keep in mind these numbers are made assuming each online vendor is being truthful about where he or she is shipping from, and that’s impossible to double-check. Second, the numbers show the number of listings, not sales. So for example if one “Dark Web” drug dealer may actually have 100 listings but 0 sales, while another might have one listing and 100 sales.
The Netherlands turns out to be the number one seller of MDMA, with Germany close behind.
MDMA- number of listings
- Netherlands- 470
- Germany- 211
Athough Amsterdam is known for pot, it seems Uncle Sam is still on top of the marijuana game because the Unite States is shipping more than twice as much marijuana as its nearest competitor.
Marijuana- number of listings
- USA- 935
- Germany- 478
- Netherlands- 313
As if we need another reason to be #1 America is also first place for shipping LSD, the UK struggling to keep up.
LSD- number of listings
- USA- 294
- United Kingdom- 226
- Germany- 181
America also has bragging rights for shipping the most cocaine with the Netherlands not far off our heels.
Cocaine- number of listings
- USA- 315
- Netherlands- 258
- United Kingdom- 174
With these kinds of drug dealers free to act on their own ventures unchecked for a time, there is no real way of tracing every deal and every package shipped, which is probably what continues to make this issue one that is most disconcerting. If we cannot even begin to trace the drugs back to their original nation, how will the authorities ever trace the dealers? Then again it would not be the first time online dealers got clever, got confident, and then got caught.
In any nation, anyone can be affected by the disease of addiction. Illicit drugs can be found in every corner of any country, some drugs more often than others, but addicts suffer the same across the board. Global awareness and effort is being made to try and make a change, but in the life of an addict there may not be much time left. There is a way to save your life, and you don’t have to cross the world to do it. 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.
Author: Justin Mckibben
It seems in society today cats in costumes and selfies layered in filters and hash-tags are not the only thing getting attention all over Instagram. Apparently thousands of accounts, perhaps even more to date, are currently being used as a powerful platforms for digital drug dealers to sell numerous drugs including marijuana, prescription pills, ecstasy, and other illicit narcotics via the Internet. Apparently pay-pal is acceptable currency now in the drug market. It operates like the notorious Silk Road, which was a marketplace for anonymous, and often illicit, trading that had been under fire for some time. The exception being that it’s a thousand times more user-friendly, and it hasn’t been shut down.
With posts of photos and videos being uploaded at the speed of social media, anyone with a smartphone can easily browse, buy, and sell drugs with almost absolute impunity and security. Instagram posts are not regularly restricted or censored. No accounts postings are ever blurred, age-gated, or otherwise sequestered from Instagram’s growing membership of over 200 million regular users. Despite the fact that this issue is increasingly obvious and only getting worse, the owner of Instagram- Facebook- has also never publicly acknowledged this ongoing criminal activity.
Let’s be practical about this. Social networks such as Instagram or Facebook operate with around 1.2 billion people actively using it at least once a month. With a community this massive there is bound to accumulate a variety of social and networking activity, legal or not, and many major corporations take full advantage of this kind of marketing strategy. Earlier this year, it was discovered that there were widespread gun-sales activity on Facebook, some of it apparently in violation of local and federal laws. Facebook eventually responded by clarifying its policies, and posts were flagged accordingly. Yet so far, Instagram has not faced a similar sanction with its drug dealing population.
The steep sum of the posts involved indicates a market that’s at least large and organized enough to simulate any other evolving function on the social network and use it to an advantage. Many of the accounts in question are public and easily searchable through Instagram, so followers have no trouble finding the hash-tag (#) they need for whatever drugs they want. Some have hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ and followers, so their clientele is hard to even begin to estimate.
How would one find a substance on this nation-wide cyber selection? It is so easy it’s scary! All it takes is a hash-tag (#) to narrow down your options. Typing in “#xanax” for example, will teleport a user to a list of hash-tags spanning more than 100,000 images specifically for this one drug, and from there the work is cut out for you. Many of these images are considered “legitimate” as they only portray USING drugs, because that’s just fine to plaster all over the internet, right? However upon closer inspection you will find posts with drugs for sale hidden in the hash-tags. With a quick untraceable money transfer or Bitcoin transaction buyers can have a shipment delivered to their doorstep in days. The U.S. Post Office or other delivery services are now undercover couriers for this seemingly limitless enterprise.
In Instagram’s defense, the actual transactions don’t actually happen over Instagram. The app is simply being exploited as a billboard for transactions that are completed elsewhere, via Bitcoin in many cases. With this kind of anonymity drug dealers are able to expand their influx of customers through one of the most widely used apps in the world. With minimal investment, cautious dealers can conduct their business in broad daylight, and even broadcast it!
Most dealers typically keep their security as best they can by listing their burner cell phone numbers or burner emails, which basically means that if the heat is put on, they can dump the phone or the email with no strings attached and as little bread-crumbs left behind to trace, if any. Many use the popular messaging app Kik, which offers relatively anonymous messaging without the hassle of phone numbers or any other self-incriminating information.
Like any clever marketing team, these dealers using Instagram accounts employ hash-tags that typically do not even relate to their specific business just to diversify their audience. Some use seemingly innocent, popular and vague referencing hashtags like #instagood, or #ifollowback. Others cast an even larger net with common pop-culture references like #rihanna to draw as many wondering eyes to their inventory as possible.
The true scale of the epidemic cannot be properly measured without hard numbers from Instagram itself. Even though many images may have multiple hash-tags, it’s apparent that a large number of photos are involved. Brand-name hash-tags, the kind any teenager might know, are particularly active and accessible on Instagram. For example the number of posts tagged with #xanax grows at a rate of over 100 photos per day, and according to further investigation there are more unique groupings like #overnightdelivery and #ohiocartel that can grow by just a few posts a day. Either way they offer easier access to those with a clear intent to sell to or scam Instagram’s millions of users.
There are plenty of scammers out there as well, which also adds an element of danger when dealing with people who intend simply to rob customers. The drugs for sale on Instagram are generally name-brands not hard to recognize:
- Liquid promethazine-codeine cough syrup
Even drug-addiction management drugs often used for withdrawal treatments are being taken advantage of like:
MDMA, LSD, and ketamine are also easy to find. However most harder narcotics like PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin have so far been very rare on Instagram.
When inquiries were made to Facebook about the questionable conduct and how they are handling this growing issue, the response wasn’t exactly ideal. The comment sent back to Venturebeat.com authors original investigating was:
“If you are reported for sharing prohibited or illegal content, including photographs or videos of extreme violence or gore, your account may be disabled and we will take appropriate action, which may include reporting you to the authorities. Additionally, it is neither possible nor permitted to complete transactions involving regulated goods on our platform. If your photos or videos are promoting the sale of regulated goods or services, including firearms, alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, or adult products, we expect you to make sure you’re following the law and to encourage others to do the same.“
In many opinions this defense is almost a blatant relinquishment of responsibility. There’s little doubt that Instagram has its eye on mobile shopping, so if Instagram eventually intends to legitimize its own marketplace there is a lot more work to be done in developing regulations.
On the other end Instagram has also increasingly appeared in headlines credited to contributions in law enforcement operations to combat illegal activity as well. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has already used Instagram to bring down international drug cartel members on many occasions, and the NYPD used the platform to conduct the biggest gun bust in their department’s history. Even though it has done some measure of good, the language contained in Instagram’s Community Guidelines doesn’t support the shadowy short-comings in the technology.
Instagram’s only line of defense thus far is simply to be reactive to the problem when it is isolated. Instagram has repeatedly blocked specific hash-tags that cause noticeable problems. Media attention also seems to trigger bans for specific hashtags being exploited. For example, the “#XanaxForSale” hash-tag was blocked with 24 hours of gaining media attention. Hash-tags relating to the sale of prescription cough syrup were similarly blocked after receiving media attention last year.
With all eyes on a thriving social media platform designed to visualize life at its fullest, how is it that this growing drug advertisement on Instagram can be stopped. With #NoFilters in place dependable enough to restrict posts as an effective #ShowStopper, can Instagram turn this around and get some of that #RecoveryLife? Hopefully this is addressed before too much damage is done. Not too many people ‘like’ the #AddictLife. 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.