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How the Internet Affected the Heroin Epidemic

How the Internet Affected the Heroin Epidemic

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

Waging War on the Dark Web

Waging War on the Dark Web

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

The war against cyber drug cartel Silk Road stirred quite a bit of controversy in its first time online, and Silk Road 2.0 followed in stride with infamy and other services. Although the two sites were shut down after a series of investigations that unmasked young hackers claiming to be ‘revolutionaries’, another installment sprung up and the illustrious enterprise of the Dark Web was once again full of digital drug dealers.

Some users speculate this is only the beginning of a vast spreading web of elite internet empires, while other experts and authorities say that as time goes on, the quicker these sites are being shut down and the harder it will be for the hackers to escape. So with recent reports, let us take a look at the status of the war on the Dark Web.

Operation Onymous

Thanks to joint international law enforcement maneuvers code-named Operation Onymous, the servers and services of some sites were recently seized, throwing many online communities that hide behind virtual anonymity via the Tor network into a literal frenzy.

The action followed the arrest of Blake Benthall, Silk Road 2.0’s 26-year-old lead administrator. Benthall, also known by his online handle as Defcon, was apprehended in San Francisco after making a $72,000 bitcoin purchase. Bitcoin is the anonymous currency used on Silk Road.

The following day, the FBI and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, working with 16 EU nations, made numerous press releases celebrating what some call a large win in the drug war, especially against the swelling dark-net market.

A total of 27 dark-net marketplaces were shut down alongside Silk Road 2.0, including largely ranked drug markets:

  • Hydra
  • Alpaca
  • Cloud 9
  • Cannabis Road

Reuniting the Dark Web

As if to rise up with a vengeance, a mere six weeks after the high-profile Operation Onymous seizures, business is once again sharp and seething at the dark-net marketplaces. While actual numbers are unavailable, the official marketplace list of Deep Dot Web indicates that black market entrepreneurs have opened several brand-new marketplaces, such as Middle Earth and SilkKitien.

As these sites keep up with business as usual, Real Hosting, an anonymous Tor hosting service, has reported numerous weekly requests from people interested in starting new ones. UK vendor of the powerful psychedelic drug DMT “ChemicalLiberty” stated recently on a forum at the Evolution marketplace.

“In our lifetime we will see massive revolution and redistribution of wealth and power. The unimaginable consequences of this transformation will happen faster than anyone dares predict.”

Robust declarations such as this have been standard among buyers and sellers even since the original manifestation of Silk Road back in February 2011. But is the confidence justified?

Trouble on Silk Road

Earlier articles have tracked the activities of Silk Road related arrests and actions being taken to further future efforts to combat this kind of cyber conduct, but just a few notes:

  • In November 2013, the Silk Road marketplace was seized by the FBI, and Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” was arrested on allegations of being the owner of the market.
  • Silk Road 2.0 started up just months after the end of its predecessor under the control of Ulbricht’s second in command, who took up the “Dread Pirate Roberts” mantel.
  • Last December,federal agents arrested 3 of Silk Road 2.0′s administrators, and the second “Dread Pirate Roberts”, leaving Silk Road 2.0 in the care of his second in command, “Defcon”.

Most of the active vendors abandoned Silk Road 2.0 after a huge hack that lost a lot of money for the site, in favor of other large markets such as Evolution and Agora that provide better security.

Filling the Viral Void

The Evolution site has tripled its sales over the past five months, but this market accepts stolen credit card information and credit card dumps, a service widely viewed as immoral and contrary to the standard “victimless crime” mentality that Silk Road started with.

According to experts and researchers the libertarian ideals behind Silk Road were about giving everyone free choice. The dark-net smugglers of Evolution have surpassed drugs to the more frowned upon fraud. But not all of its members see credit-card fraud as a deal breaker.

Evolution does, however, draw some moral red lines, outlawing:

  • child pornography
  • murder/assassination/terrorism
  • sex and/or prostitution
  • Ponzi schemes and investment opportunities
  • lotteries and raffles

One site called Agora keeps a close relationship to the original Silk Road philosophies and bans stolen credit card information.

Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded

Veteran users of the hidden services may have abandoned Silk Road, but the name and brand have not been abandoned. A small marketplace called Diabolous quickly re-branded itself as Silk Road 3.0 Reloaded in an attempt to capitalize on the legend’s name.

But Deep Dot Web has banned the listing of the market due to the re-use of the Silk Road name, and many users recommend avoiding the newest imitation. Many users share the opinion that trying to keep the Silk Road name alive is counterproductive to the real cause behind it.

If authorities have the power to de-anonymize Tor, then these markets are done, because the Dark Web is only possible with Tor style networks.

The Truth of Tor

Tor is the most sophisticated means for hiding the physical locations of dealers utilizing the Dark Web while browsing, and also allows for the creation of hidden sites running off of servers that may not even “know” the sites are there.

Without the use of a network like Tor most internet drug marketplaces are shut down quickly and easily. When this happens a federal subpoena will reveal the records of whoever rents the server space, because there is no extra identity protection. Although even with this added security sites like Silk Road are getting taken down. That just goes to show there may be far too much vulnerability in Tor’s infrastructure to rely on the security.

The War on the Dark Web

Many hackers and vendors have not been deterred by the events that brought down the 27 sites, or the continued investigations into online drug trafficking. Most believe that as the war on the Dark Web rages, smarter programmers with stronger software and innovative tactics will rise up, and for every site taken down, more ‘revolutionaries’ will step up to fill the void.

James Martin is an Australian criminologist who actually had a similar opinion. As the author of Lost on the Silk Road, a study of how online communication technology is transforming crime, Martin believes that dark-web commerce is quite sustainable, and many marketers are in for the long haul. In an email he explained,

“As further site closures are achieved, the surviving cryptomarkets will adapt and improve site security. Unless there is a follow-up operation sometime soon, particularly one that results in a large number of arrests—something that Onymous did not achieve—then cryptomarkets will continue to grow and diversify.”

The supply and demand for drugs, and for making money off of drugs, has not been curtailed by these recent arrests and dismantled drug empires. The drug trade has existed long before these trafficking tactics, and some speculate that with smartphones and other new inventions constantly evolving the way the internet works we may be seeing even more fascinating innovations in how dealers avoid detection and use the wireless waves of the world’s WiFi to wage war on the Dark Web.

While opinions on Silk Road and the evolution of internet illicit drug industries have varied in capability and conception, the idea that the war on drugs is still alive may mean more difficult decisions for those desperately trying to escape addiction. 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.   

Follow-Up on Silk Road: Version 3.0 Already Getting a Bad Rep

Follow-Up on Silk Road: Version 3.0 Already Getting a Bad Rep

Author: Justin Mckibben

As if anyone would think computer hackers and programmers were in short supply, barely a few hours after authorities shut down Silk Road 2.0 last week the third installment of the online Dark Web drug market was launched. However, the new site has been met with great criticism.

New Kids or Old Tricks

Silk Road 2.0 was launched in response to the original Silk Road being shut down by the FBI, but Silk Road 3 Reloaded is actually a strategic name change from a website that was formerly named Diabolus Market. That site was launched just under a month ago as a ‘cannabis-only’ marketplace, but an automated email to users recent sent out described the site as “an anonymous, professional and peaceful marketplace selling all sorts of goods and services…there is no judgement, censorship or repercussion here. We are truly free.”

Initially is seems that the new site is simply attempting to ride the coat-tails of a more infamous enterprise. Even the automated messages from Silk Road 3 use the name Dread Pirate Roberts, which the original Silk Road founder went by. Ross William Ulbricht, the original Silk Road founder, was arrested last October by federal authorities. He is currently being charged with:

  • Soliciting murder
  • Drug trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Facilitating computer hacking

The alleged operator of the new site even claims to actively be working with a member of the Silk Road 2.0 team. They wrote in an email

“He/she is using my code and servers but is operating SR 3.0 themselves. I don’t have anything more to say.”

Can’t Fool the Customers

Despite these supposed claims to the Silk Road fame, users remain skeptical and have not been pleased with the overall functionality of the new site. A regular user named Budflood wrote,

“The Silkroad [sic] 2.0 was designed with a lot more sophistication. This looks like it’s just been thrown together by a bunch of kids.”

Blake Benthall who launched Silk Road 2.0 was arrested last week and faces 10 years on charges including:

  • Conspiring to commit narcotics trafficking
  • Conspiring to commit computer hacking
  • Conspiring to traffic in fraudulent identification documents
  • Money laundering conspiracy

He was reportedly second-in-command for Silk Road 2.0 until December 2013, but began running the website when its founder ceased operations following the arrests of the original Silk Road operators.

No doubt, this apparently cheap imitation of the Silk Road will eventually be brought down the same as the others, and sure enough until there is a better handle on the Dark Web, sites like these will keep cropping up to try and corner the digital drug market. With the evolution of drug dealing, and reform in drug policies, treatment must continue to evolve and address the issue to help those who still suffer, and there is help out there. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135

Does Instagram need a #Intervention?

Does Instagram need a #Intervention?

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.

#HowItGoesDown

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.

#ChangingTheGame

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:

  • Marijuana
  • Liquid promethazine-codeine cough syrup
  • Xanax
  • Adderall
  • Oxycodone

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.

#What’sTheDeal

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.

 

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