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Methamphetamine – A document well worth a read


Many of you will recognise the writings of US psychologist Carl Hart, having had many interesting things to say about crack, and now methamphetamine. Yes there have been many books on the subject but this is different and you can read it all here right now! It is a fascinating read on meth, the facts and the hype. If the subject interests you, and I reckon it probably does, give it a read. Love to hear your comments.

Report cover

Text From Open Society Institute: The rise in methamphetamine use has provoked a barrage of misinformation and reckless policies, such as mandatory minimum sentences, increased penalties for minor offenders and major restrictions against certain medicines.

This new report, titled Methamphetamine: Fact vs. Fiction and Lessons from the Crack Hysteria, reveals the extreme stigmatization of users and dangerous policy responses that are reminiscent of the crack hysteria in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to grossly misguided laws that accelerated mass incarceration in the United States.

The report recommends that national and international policymakers review laws that harshly punish methamphetamine possession or use, invest in treatment rather than punishment, restudy the restriction of access to amphetamines for legitimate medical purposes, and stop supporting wasteful and ineffective campaigns of misinformation on methamphetamine use.

Go straight to the 36 page report here 

That Old Viennese Waltz Begins Again …It’s the Commission on Narcotic Drugs

It’s That Time Again – the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs .

This blog is from INPUD’s blog and was posted today both there and here on March 15, 2014 by 

Note: These views are my own as a drug activist and writer and do not reflect INPUD’s own thoughtful and positioned response to the events at the 2014 CND. For a direct response from INPUD’s Chief Executive Director Eliot Albers, see below.

The Start of the Dance

Wednesday 13th March, 2014 marked the start of the High-Level segment of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) 57th session at the UN headquarters in Vienna. But before we start chatting do let me say: For an interesting and worthwhile insight into the machinations of global drug policy, the CND is a good place to start and you can read more about the event at these chosen sites, to help you enjoy a more rounded news feast that will provide some relief for those suffering drug war stress ulcers.

Where to go to follow the low down on the high level sessions?

Start at the official UNODC’s CND page for your basic brief and structure of the weeks events at http://j.mp/N9oggo, and even check out some of the (permitted) real-time webcasts at    http://www.unodc.org/hlr/en/webcast.html where you can see representatives from civil society speak on drug issues as well as some of the world’s more knowledgeable and persuasive speakers – and as always some complete political muppets will get to have a big say (although this is always good for a chuckle) but remember that the CND operates behind closed doors on the whole so many of the more surreal muppet moments will be hidden from our view . Recover yourself with a breath of common sense at the http://cndblog.org where you will get the unofficial official low down on all the news and views from a harm reduction and drug law reformers standpoint (I could have just said common sense overview I suppose) and then you can vent your frustrated opinions by joining the conversation in real time via good ol’ Twitter ‪#‎CND2014‬. Add your two pence worth friends!

For an interesting update on the events, get your taster session here, written by yours truly!

A Vending Machine for Crack Pipes? Now that Rocks!

Well, I’ll be damned, harm reduction is getting down with drug users -how  fabulous when we find a glowing example of a perfectly useful, innovative and user friendly invention that actually makes it out of its’ idea stage, only to leap frog over the community hysterics into production and onto our streets; the streets of Vancouver in this case. A vending machine for crack pipes -selling the pipes that one may be constantly in need of (if one has a constant preoccupation with the white rocks, that is…) for just 25c.

OK, so as the VICE news item below says, the over-arching idea behind this was to prevent HIV or Hepatitis C transmission that people COULD be exposed too, when finding themselves sharing pipes and some bodily fluids from the associated burnt or cut thumbs and lips that can occur from heavy sessions on the pipe. But I notice at least one of the vending machines is located in a popular drop in service, which on its own provides an important moment for a user to touch base, be seen by peers and health professionals, add to an important data pool on drug usage, – and all at the same time as making a personal positive health choice and a chance to reduce harm. Nice one!

But what is really cool is that this is an evolution of the work our rather clever peers are doing in Vancouver, work started in the area by VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users),

Mariner James of the Portland Hotel Society with the machine.

Three Cheers for our Junkie Peers!

So three cheers to the continuation of user ingenuity and peer outreach in Vancouver, they have done us all proud. I should say however, that the sheer scale of what drug users are up against in Vancouver seems to ensure our colleagues are constantly fighting hard to maintain some semblance of humanity  for our community there.

The Downtown Eastside, centered on the intersection of Main and Hasting streets in Vancouver, has one of the highest concentrations of injection drug users in the world. An overgrown ‘Skid Row’ is flush with prostitution and destitution, most of its residents live in badly maintained hotels and hostels lining Main Street.

Out of 12,000 residents in the area, some 5,000 are estimated to be drug users and any chat with a peer from these streets or indeed a look at any of the  documentaries on You Tube about the area, shows our peers are struggling;  crack and methamphetamine use remains steady or is increasing and even injecting heroin use continues to rise as much of the scene is now buoyed by pharmaceutical opiates which appears to be collecting young, newer users whereas in other places, like the UK and Western Europe, we are seeing injecting heroin use dropping among the young and plateauing among older users..

Since 2008 it seems over half of Vancouver’s opiate users are on methadone or similar OST’s although the figures aren’t as encouraging for its aboriginal population. For up to date information on the drug situation in Vancouver, Click here.

With such numbers of heavy drug users living in such a deprived area, an outsider could believe any inroads made by progressive harm reduction policies and initiatives are slowly unpicked again by repeated incarceration, illness and infection, discrimination and homelessness. Yet this is the battle that harm reductionists and drug user activists are fighting; it is indeed one step forward and two steps back and lives are literally won and lost on the back of populist election promises, just like in so many parts of the world…

Humanity on Skid Row

Although the battle to save lives and promote humane drug policies in Vancouver however is ongoing, there are certainly signs that the current interventions are working. Yet the aim must be to examine the strategies that are showing results  Statistics show the number of new HIV infections (incidence) may be decreasing among people who inject drugs, females and Aboriginal people and where targeted, innovative health and harm reduction responses are delivered, results generally follow.

According to 2011 national HIV estimates, an estimated  14% of new infections were attributed to injection drug use compared to an estimated 17% of new infection in 2008.*

In Vancouver itself, initiatives across the board have given us all a welcome insight into just what targeted, user friendly and progressive health interventions can do. The project STOP (The Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS Project) was a three-year pilot funded by the Ministry of Health and ending in March 2013. This fascinating endeavour would  ultimately transform the HIV system of care in the city through a variety of initiatives and activities we now know as imperative for change, such as community engagement with people living with HIV, evidence review, consultations with both service and healthcare providers, the development of population-specific reports, constant assessment of the current state of the HIV system of care, policy change, and the funding, monitoring and evaluation of over 40 pilot activities. Phew! A terrific document was recently published which I urge anyone interested in progressive health interventions for this community, to read this (Click Here).

Toronto user activists, still innovating and agitating for their community.

Across the other side of Canada in Toronto, we have the same level of innovative peer initiatives and activism behind many of the most progressive  community approaches to the drug issue. Raffi Balian, a founder member of Toronto’s  exceptional harm reduction service CounterFIT,  told me “The best and most innovative harm reduction initiatives are taking place in cities where people who use drugs are represented by strong unions; such as VANDU in Vancouver, and Brugerforeningen in Copenhagen.  In Toronto” he continued “we have been blessed because we were the first city to distribute crack stems.  A lot of the push came through the work of the Illegal Drug Users Union of Toronto in 2000, followed by the Safer Crack Use Coalition of Toronto (SCUC, 2001-2011).  In Toronto, service users can get as many as 200-300 stems without questions asked.” Upon being asked about the popularity of Vancouver’s crack pipe vending machine, Raffi was quick to enthuse  that the distribution of crack stems through vending machines, “is a brilliant idea and something that we will surely import here [Toronto].  It will take some time and effort, but I’m sure we will learn from VANDU’s efforts and will make it a reality in Toronto – just as we are doing with supervised injection sites. “

Recent moves to copy Vancouver’s famous safer drug consumption room INSITE – (sometimes known as a supervised injection centre or clinic) has been underway, and a feasibility study on injection rooms was actually requested by the City of Toronto in 2008 (and later expanded to include Ottawa). The study was then undertaken by researchers at the University of Toronto and staff at St. Michael’s Hospital,  after watching the developments at INSITE.

The results of the study were released in April 2012 and it advised Ottawa to introduce two “safe consumption” sites and Toronto to open three sites. While they didn’t recommend specific locations, they did suggest more than one centralized location, which is what Vancouver has with its Insite program. Around the same time a Public Health initiated study emerged recommending Montreal also open up to four safe drug consumption rooms, openly referring to the benefits such sites have repeatedly shown in reducing the number of overdose deaths, assisting people to make positive changes in their lives and reducing the drug paraphernalia found on the streets and in the parks.

INSITE – North America’s first drug consumption room in Vancouver

Although conservatives in Toronto raced to  dampen spirits with their usual confused concerns about the recommendations, the brilliant partnership working recently undertaken by drug user activists like those at VANDU, who worked long and hard with various  groups, advocates, researchers, health professionals, lawyers and others to fight for the special exemption to Canada’s Federal Drug Laws which enabled INSITE to remain open for good, (an exemption which now finally stands) today means that cities and provinces like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal, can also fight for a similar exemption -and should.

Yet before we say goodnight to our peers in Vancouver (and across Canada) may we just wish our friends luck as they embark on their latest Crack Pipe Vending Machine initiative and hope that other countries may soon follow their courageous lead. Well done in using another tool in the fight to prevent HIV and Hep C, in fostering rights and responsibilities for people who use drugs, and forwarding the adage that judgements and moralising will never help the drugs debate, only humanity, intelligent policies and community partnerships involving the drug using community -will provide us all with the solutions we require now and for the future. G ‘Night friends.

Toronto Public Health

Pic: Another recent initiative that drug using peers have been trained up in, in Toronto -using the anti overdose drug Naloxone, to be administered to an opiate user at the time of an overdose to essentially restart breathing again.

*2011 Estimates of HIV prevalence and incidence in Canada, published by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC)

The Crack Pipe Vending Machine -A Vice Article.

“Crack pipes: 25 Cents,” reads the sign on a shiny vending machine, painted in bright polka dots. Decades ago, this device sold sandwiches. Now, when you put in your quarter and punch in a number, there is a click, a pause, and a little whirr. Then the spiral rotates until a crack pipe—packaged in a cardboard tube to avoid shattering—drops into a tray. Then you reach through the flap and retrieve your new stem.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, Hepatitis C and HIV can be spread through sharing crack pipes. The intense heat and repeated usage that comes with crack addiction can quickly wear pipes down to jagged nubs. Users are always in need of fresh supplies. Like distributing clean needles, making crack pipes available is just good public health policy, as users don’t have to resort to risky activities to come up with the cash to buy one on the street.

The crack pipe vending machine was the dream of Mark Townsend and Mariner Janes, of the Portland Hotel Society (PHS), a non-profit that provides services to persons with mental health and addiction issues. There are currently two machines and they’ve been in place for six months.  Each holds 200 pipes and needs refilling a couple times each week.

One of the machines is located at PHS’s bustling Drug Users Resource Centre. As I arrive there with Mariner, people greet each other as a writing workshop wraps up, while others queue up for lunch. I ask if anyone wants to talk to me about the vending machine that stood in the corner.

Joe looks at me like I’m an idiot, then smiles, and adds: “It’s a vending machine, what else do you need to know?” He says he uses it all the time and that “a quarter is way better than what’d you have to pay on the street.” A bit of a debate kicks off about how to improve the machines e.g. including other crack related supplies: lighters, push sticks, etc.

A woman named DJ chimes in. She uses the machine and tells her friends about it. She says she’d like to see more pipe vending machines around the Downtown Eastside. “But bolt them down… People go: ‘Hey, pipes!’ And shake it to get them to drop out for free.” Mariner nods his head, all too aware of the shaken machine dilemma.

Mariner hopes that distributing pipes will one day be as accepted a practice as handing out needles to IV drug users has become. He says, “the stigma around crack use is much higher than, say, heroin or any other drug. There’s a particular quality of panic.” And he worries about the possible sensationalism that the vending machines might attract from more conservative commentators.

But community support for handing out safe crack smoking supplies is growing. Three years ago, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority began a pipe distribution pilot program. The Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users started even before that. Vancouver Police have come round, giving the nod to some harm reduction initiatives, even directing users to the safe injection site and other programs.

“Aiyanas Ormond of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users told me the vending machines are “a good intervention. Access to a pipe can make the difference for people having a safe practice.” Citing research from the Safer Crack Use, Outreach, Research and Education (SCORE) project, he noted that significant harm reduction comes from distributing pipes to users in the sex trade. They won’t have to work potentially unsafe dates just to pay for the pipe itself.”

Mariner spends his days behind the wheel of PHS’s needle exchange van, doing outreach and distributing clean needles and pipes around Vancouver. There is a neighbourly, comradely feeling between him and the people who use the vending machines, or sidle up to the his van whose purpose is announced in giant letters on the side panel of the vehicle.

Sometimes, a client will ask for a more subtle approach, so as not to announce to the entire neighbourhood what’s going on. Mariner will pull into an alley, or even use a less obvious vehicle. And if a more anonymous interaction is what the user wants, all they need is a quarter. That’s his philosophy—meet people on their own terms, and provide services as a peer, not an authority.

It’s not by chance the vending machine has a happy—rather than official—design; as its meant to contrast the typically cold, heavily secured, and clinical facilities for addicts. The vending machine has an aesthetic that exudes care for the people who will use it. Mariner says “part of the design that we chose is to provide a sense of respect and dignity to the user, who is pretty much stigmatized and reviled everywhere else in the city.”

The look and feel says: I am a machine that dispenses a basic health care supply to the community, not a judgement or moral lecture.

This article was authored by: Garth Mullins ; for VICE and has been copied fully from the VICE.com website.

Feb 7 2014

Norway’s’ Drug Users’ Inject Some Common Sense into Parliament!

Norway’s Drug User’s Day has been arranged every year on November 18 but this year it seemed quite special. Arranged by Arild Knutsen and his companions in The Association for Humane Drug Policies to raise awareness about the issues facing people who use drugs in Norway, this year would see a contingent of passionate drug user activists face their country’s politicians across the table in Parliament – offering opinions and answering questions – all upon invitation by the current Labour Government.

The film shows how drug users in Norway effectively banded together to ask their government to implement heroin prescribing for many of its country’s  10,000  users.

Fully subtitled, the film follows a large group of Norway’s drug users as they put their thoughts and views across to their country’s politicians in an articulate, direct and heartfelt way way, asking simply for the considered implementation of more progressive drug policies that would permit many  the chance to live a more dignified life; for is that not their right like any other?

They ask why, when the results from heroin prescribing in neighboring Denmark is so encouraging as to now be expanded, can’t Norway consider a heroin (diamorphine) trial or programme? Why, when more and more European countries continue to collate positive and encouraging data on the outcomes from heroin prescribing clinics does Norway continue to hold back a tool that could provide so many heroin users with stability, dignity, and well being?

Quoted here, Arild Knutsen  Norway’s Association for Humane Drug Policies (fabulous name!) gives a short introduction to their film (edited)…”There’s around 10,000 injecting drug users in Norway and we want more harm reduction measures for them. Stop the criminalization of drug users! We also want the politicians to try implementing heroin assisted rehabilitation, like Denmark, The Netherlands and Switzerland (among others) have successfully done.”

He continues to describe the film…”Drug users are rallying to be treated with dignity. The group is invited in to The Parliament. This year by The Labour Party. There, drug users’ show the short movie: “Magnus, a Spring Day” which is heroin user Magnus Lilleberg documenting his life, through Munin Films.  Magnus, an Academy Award winner and heroin user, screened his short documentary for politicians in the Norwegian Parliament. Like many others, he tells how Methadone and Subutex haven’t worked for him and he asks the politicians to implement heroin assisted treatment.”

“Then Winnie Jørgensen (Drug User Union, Denmark) appears on a Skype Feed, answering questions about her life now that she gets heroin legally in Copenhagen.”

Amongst others in this film were: Geir Hjelmerud, Torstein Bjordal, Line Huldra Pedersen and Arild Knutsen from The Association for Humane Drug Policies. http://www.fhn.no


Ronnie Bjørnestad from proLAR and Borge Andersen are also profiled as fighting for drug users rights.
A film by Chistoffer Næss and Per Kristian Lomsdalen, Munin Film.

17th of December is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The Red Umbrella is the global sign for sex worker solidarity and rights

The Red Umbrella is the global sign for sex worker solidarity and rights and the NSWP (Network Sex Worker Projects)

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

launches a global consensus

against violence

NSWP (known as Global Network of Sex Worker Projects) is publishing the results of a global consultation exercise, carried out with members in every region, and now written up into all the five languages of NSWP, for December 17th, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.

The publication of the Consensus Statement represents a new tool for sex workers’ advocacy worldwide, as for the first time it distills into a consensus the global demands of the sex worker rights movement. The Consensus Statement details eight fundamental rights that sex worker-led groups from around the world identified as crucial targets for their activism and advocacy, and which, if fully realised, would be a huge step towards safeguarding sex workers’ human rights, labour rights, and health. These eight key rights were identified as:

  • The right to associate and organise;
  • The right to be protected by the law;
  • The right to be free from violence;
  • The right to be free from discrimination;
  • The right to privacy, and freedom from arbitrary interference;
  • The right to health;
  • The right to move and migrate; and
  • The right to work and free choice of employment

The documents – which have been published in both full and summary versions – are available in English (full and summary); French (full and summary); Russian (full and summary); Chinese (fulland summary) and Spanish (full and summary).


William Shatner beams it down in the Summer of Lurve

OMG! Friends

The original album was called The Transformed Man and actually came out in 1968, and featured a few of contemporary hits of the time, many with drug references which he obviously embraced wholeheartedly; songs such as Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Mr Tambourine man (classic). But even weirder, he recites Shakespeare over a soundtrack – Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet,  King Henry the Fifth -and even weirder still – a song called ‘Spleen’ with words by John Lennon.

Being 1968, makes us think he was dead serious when he  made this, tho I don’t think actually will admit that these days… But I swear to you – this is a MUST listen to, you will never loo at William Shatner in the same way again.

It is perfect to cheer you or a buddy up – excellent for accompanying any hallucinogen or ketamine evening, or just getting blown out for the sake of it.

From the album – Spleen and Lucy in the Sky…

And if you just got to hear a bit more – here is bohemian rhapsody from a slighter later production – pure gold!  Enjoy!


ALERT -contaminated ecstasy, a global issue

Tablets sold as MDMA may contain other chemicals

Tablets sold as MDMA may contain other chemicals

Sadly, perhaps the most important news to report today, on what should be a day for celebration in our communityInternational Drug Users Day (on the 1st of November every year), is a contamination issue that has gone global, affecting ecstasy. INPUD has just released this information sheet for circulation on the contamination of ecstasy by the chemical PMA and the subsequent tragic deaths that have resulted, covering what you can do to stay informed and protect yourself. Here is an introduction to the issue from the document  PMA_Warning_INPUD_Oct2013_v.1 (1) or link to it from your website. Help yourself to information for dissemination amongst the using community but please credit INPUD.

PMA Info Sheet LINK

PMA Contaminated Ecstasy and MDMA Alert for MDMA and Ecstasy Users

English: PMA (para-methoxyamphetamine) capsule...

 PMA (para-methoxyamphetamine) capsules seized in Maryland, USA 

If you use ecstasy and/or MDMA, you cannot afford to think of this as one of those things that happens to other people. There is lots of misinformation going around, and people using uppers, ecstasy, and MDMA need some straightforward facts.

Recent deaths

Deaths caused by ecstasy contaminated with the drug para-Methoxyamphetamine (PMA) have increased substantially over the last two years. The Office for National Statistics records no PMA deaths in 2008, 2009, and 2010 in England and Wales, up to a recorded one death in 2011 to around twenty deaths in 2012.

This trend has continued into 2013. There have been media and police reports that in recent months, a man has died in Manchester, with several people additionally requiring hospitalisation, and there were more reported deaths in Manchester towards the beginning of the year; in addition, at least two people have died this year in Cheshire, further people have died in the North of England, in Oxford, and in Hampshire, and we aware of numerous people who have mistakenly taken PMA in London. Deaths have been recorded in England and Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the USA (several states), Canada, Denmark, Norway, and Australia.

If you use ecstasy and/or MDMA, you cannot afford to think of this as one of those things that happens to other people. There is  lots of misinformation going around, and people using uppers, ecstasy, and MDMA need some straightforward facts

What is PMA?

PMA is a dangerous compound. Using it has substantial negatives, not the least of which are high morbidity and high mortality, and there is little by way of psychoactive positives to justify these downsides. This is different from uncontaminated MDMA, which is substantially safer to the individual using the drug than many other psychoactive  substances, including alcohol and tobacco (its Class A status is nonsensical as an indicator of harm).

Most people are not deliberately buying and taking PMA in greater numbers; instead the ecstasy they are using, the active ingredient of which is ideally MDMA, has been contaminated. The reasons for this contamination are unclear, but it is possible that a precursor to the synthesis of PMA is easier to acquire than a precursor to MDMA.

Regardless of the reason, the fact is that people are dying due to taking a drug they did not intend to take. (continued by clicking link below)

Click here for the full Information Sheet (available for printing)

Full text from article on BP page

Fight Back on Benefits

Here’s a bit more interesting info I’ve come across recently.

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It came from an interesting and very useful website, or blog rather, called Benefit Tales. It is bang up to date on all the recent benefit changes, especially those affecting disable people. I was initially drawn in by a headline that said

‘ATOS physiotherapists cannot give opinions on mental health assessments – official’.  Which is what I had been fuming about for some time, given that so many people I know with mental health problems have gone before the  medical assessment, only to be assessed on their physical status, while their psychological side was basically ignored or misunderstood. The assessors are ‘HealthCare Professionals but who are also ATOS trained and clearly have certain objectives to meet. They regularly are allowed to more or less override what your doctor says. Regarding the heading, the story goes as follows…

“The case involved a claimant, with mental health problems, who suffered from depression and bouts of uncontrollable rage. An Upper Tribunal Judge held that the opinion of a physiotherapist Healthcare Professional (HCP) was only useful for recording what the claimant said and did during the medical/assessment. Any other was useless as evidence because of their lack of expertise of mental health conditions.

The ruling affects all ESA appeals where the severity and effects of a disabled person’s mental health is at issue and expertise in this field is required to give an adequate opinion. It may also affect claimants with a wide range of physical health conditions.

In addition, there is no logical reason why the Upper Tribunals’ conclusion should not apply to appeals relating to the points findings of a disputed Personal Independence Payment (PIP) medical report by Atos or Capita.

Anyone considering an ESA appeal, who disputes the health professionals’ evidence, may wish to consider challenging the HCP expert status in relation to their disability.”

This was published a little while back on 26th July 2013 but you can view a full summary and a link to the decision at


And here was a few more helpful links if you are feeling harassed and overwhelmed by the reviews, appeals, claims etc. This is also a little section repeated from this site Benefit Tales, in reply to people looking for help.

“Your best bet may be to find a local disability activist group, who will probably have local people who are experienced at helping people through tribunals. Many will be suffering from mental illnesses themselves and will understand what you are going through. Your local CAB or trades council may be able to put you in touch. If your council has a welfare rights officer they may be able to help too.

You can also go to one of the various organisations online that give help and advice. Try any of these

I hope you already have someone to go to the tribunal with you. Theres some facebook pages; ‘Disability and Benefit Support – don’t go alone’ which has a national list of volunteers, some with legal experience, ready to help people through appeals and tribunals; ‘ATOS Miracles’ is a good place to post your story and get useful help and support from others in your situation; and a page called ‘Fightback’ which offers direct support form qualified benefit advisors, for a very small, voluntary fee – though they are rushed off their feet now.They can only attend tribunals within 100 miles of Birmingham, but can give advice by email or phone to anyone”.

One last interesting (depressing) Link for the ladies from the website:

Women biggest victims in coalition’s welfare blitz


Good luck readers, seems we are going to need it.

The Journey to Freemarket Drugs, via Silk Road?

Many  readers will have heard about the rapid rise and recent fall of Silk Road, the blackmarket internet site that existed only on what they call, ‘The Dark Web’. The Silk Road was certainly accessible with a bit of effort and with just a little more techy know-how you could enter the slightly overwhelming world of the people’s own black market; shopping like you have never known it before people! As it was set up to allow the decent dude to buy and sell, trade goods off the grid, so to speak it soon had become a comfy home to some seriously decent, straight up drug dealers, selling everything from top Peruvian flake cocaine, number 4 white heroin, pharmaceuticals from Adderal (US amphethamine) -to Xanax and everything worth taking in between (Fentynal, Ritalin, codeine, Oxycontin etc). It allowed buying and selling (oh and what browsing!) without the back alleys, the crack houses, the rip-offs and busts.  It was a totally new format. A move on from the thousands of internet pharmacy’s selling the fairly narrow range of psychoactives, it was, one could say, a veritable  Pandora’s box of temptations…
The site was able to function as a marketplace by sticking to a few core values, such as earned trust, reputation, fairness. It was based on the format of Amazon, and so reviews were everything. Sure there were scammers about, and customs all over the world would occasionally intercept ones goodies in the mail, but a rip  off would get spotted quickly and a review would go up and in an instant, your potential buyers looked elsewhere. This review system also worked well for debate about the quality of certain powders, very helpful and something we could do with on our own mean streets.
Silk Road had the kind of technology that made tracing transactions extremely difficult and time consuming, the small time buyers and sellers (or vendors as they are known on SR) operated pretty much with impunity. An attached SR forum allowed everyone to discuss issues, such as who has the best cocaine flake, who is a rotten scammer, who is setting up shop and offering free samples in order to clock up some good reviews that would encourage other buyers. All transactions were made in Bitcoins, that rather fluctuating internet currency that has been unnerving governments of late but now seems to be in it for the long haul.
There are other sites just like Silk Road still operating and using Bitcoins all with varying levels of sophistication when it comes to encrypting your data so plod won’t coming knocking with a big list of your recent purchases. In any case, the story below is about Silk Roads alleged Founder, Ross Ulbricht, and I have copied it here because i think it is one of the better articles circulating that gives a good insight into the whole Silk Road story. Below that, you will find a link to the 1st article to emerged from Ross himself since his arrest, as he, poor thing, languishes in a US prison facing, potentially, life behind bars, a most horrific prospect you’ll agree. You will also find a link to a fundraising site for his potentially excruciating legal fees. (although he is supposed to have millions squirreled away somewhere, possibly though, inaccessible for now, and maybe much in bitcoins..
One more thing; since the feds put the kibosh on Silk Road, many other similar sites have sprung up or been revamped to cope with the huge influx of buyers and sellers, ex Silk Roaders, all looking for a new home to trade from.  Upon investigation, it isn’t easy to buy and trade on these sites, and I think it shouldn’t be made too easy either, it takes quite a lot of effort and IT skills. After all, we really don’t want our kids experimenting with what they might not fully understand. There is no harm reduction information here, readers.
Yet, for the drug connoisseurs and liberty enthusiasts it is a fascinating direction that we are heading in, these sites are certainly ‘the peoples blackmarket’ where success rides solely on ones good reputation -ie, not faffing people around, decent product, helpful back up, timely delivery. Just what we want in all our drug dealers but rarely get.
I’m truly concerned about SR founder Ross Ulbrichts’ liberty, (he is still so young, certainly bright and with some very interesting ideas) as I am certain the Feds will be looking to throw the proverbial book at him. He really did have some admirable ideals. Finally someone tried to circumvent the gangs, corrupt officials and the mafioso that dominate the drugs trade and put it back in the hands of the people where it should be. There are still problems in such systems, but nevertheless it is a very interesting space to watch these days and i’m hoping it will evolve into something useful as a way to protect the average Joe and Josephine from the city’s drug trading mean streets and allow a modicum of quality control. Sure it isn’t ideal, we still cant get our drugs regulated for safety, but this is an interesting.
Thanks to The Daily Dot for the article, be sure to check out their site for many associated Silk Road articles and Dark Web updates (amongst other things).

The Definitive History of Silk Road

By Patrick Howell O’Neill on October 11, 2013

The Silk Road Homepage after the DEA came knocking

The Silk Road Homepage after the DEA came knocking

Before Ross William Ulbricht decided he wanted to change the world, he studied physics at the University of Texas at Dallas, worked as a peer-reviewed research scientist, and finally, served as CEO of a small online used book store called Good Wagon Books. In his spare time, he enjoyed the occasional psychotropic drug.

Then, in 2010, Ulbricht wrote on LinkedIn that he wanted to “use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind.”

“I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force.”

In May, Ulbricht’s LinkedIn resumé indicates he left his job at Good Wagon Books. What did he do next? His roommates, family, and even his best friends all say they had no idea how he made a living—except that it was online. His LinkedIn profile remained unchanged. But if allegations in a federal indictment filed last week prove true, Ulbricht was very busy.

In  Jan. 27, 2011, Ulbricht anonymously unveiled his masterpiece to the world. In a brief post on psychedelic mushroom site Shroomery.org, he posed as an anonymous netizen who simply stumbled across a new website. It was called Silk Road. He asked for feedback.

The immediate response was skepticism. Ulbricht may have thought that his little marketing ploy had failed, so he wrote about Silk Road on the BitcoinTalk.org forum two days later with a very similar post. BitcoinTalk readers were interested immediately.

In fact, the initial Shroomery post had actually succeeded wildly. Over the next few months, Silk Road became genuinely popular among Shroomery users as word passed from person to person: “Yes, you really can buy drugs safely online.”

Others had come before the Silk Road. From the 1980s to the 1990s, Usenet groups, chat rooms, and markets like the Hive ushered in a revolution in the way the world discussed, shared knowledge about, and traded illegal drugs. Just prior to Silk Road’s launch, two sites—the Open Vendor Database (OVDB) and the Farmer’s Market—specialized in selling drugs online.

Like the Silk Road, these older markets used digital currencies—electronic money that acts as an alternative to dollars and euros—such as e-gold, Pecunix, and Liberty Reserve. Many of them even used Western Union and Paypal to handle transactions. But the majority of earlier markets didn’t even employ anonymizing technology. They largely existed in plain sight, apparently hoping that law enforcement would just miss them in the boundless landscape of cyberspace. They still made good money, however: The demand for online drugs has always been huge, and these flawed markets were scraping off a small piece of the pie. No one had really exploited the market.

Silk Road was different. It was the first market to leverage the anonymizing power of the browser Tor, the peer-to-peer crypto-currency Bitcoin, and the encryption program known as Pretty Good Privacy. Silk Road quickly attracted attention as the safest place to buy drugs online. It was the first website to model itself after the easy-to-use commerce giant Amazon.com, a comparison made by Ulbricht himself in early promotional posts.

By May 2011, Silk Road was home to hundreds of users selling and buying a growing variety of drugs across the world.

“Knowledge about how to access the website spread only by word of mouth,” Dread Pirate Roberts later wrote, “and the only way to find out about it was if you knew a guy who knew a guy who knew how to get into the site.”

At this early point, “everyone was sophisticated,” a money launderer on Silk Road who goes by the handle StExo told the Daily Dot. “Everyone was safe, everyone was cautious. There were no guides because the only people who could access such things generally were the very security-aware people.”

Of course, that would all change. On June 1, 2011, at the too-good-to-be-coincidental time of 4:20pm, Gawker’s Adrian Chen revealed the existence of Silk Road to the world.

“Silk Road was a godsend for me,” a user named SexyWax recently told the Daily Dot. “I was unemployed and miserable at the time… I had thoughts of suicide often. I was just a customer in early 2011. After the Gawker article came out, I began thinking about being a vendor.”

Some of Silk Roads substances...

Some of Silk Roads substances…

Before Chen’s article, Silk Road had hundreds of users. That soon jumped an order of magnitude, to over 10,000. That crush of visitors occasionally brought down the site’s servers. And it also encouraged scammers, ready to prey on curious newbies who, more often than not, didn’t know how to adequately protect their anonymity and money.

A still-volatile Bitcoin made doing business even riskier. Between June and November 2011, the digital currency’s value rose to $31 then plummeted to $2 as it adjusted to the Silk Road rush, making it difficult for sellers to make money. Security difficulties facing the Web’s largest Bitcoin exchange didn’t make business any easier.

To help balance against Bitcoin’s volatility, Dread Pirate Roberts introduced a “hedged escrow” option buyers and sellers in May 2011. For the rest of Silk Road’s lifespan, bitcoins were converted into U.S. dollars after a purchase, held in an escrow, and then changed back as the transaction was finalized, thus shielding both sides significantly from whatever currency volatility may creep up.

Curiosity soon turned into cash. New users made orders in droves and turned Silk Road into a singularly successful enterprise. Bitcoin launched on an upward trajectory as it crept toward stability.

Days after the Gawker article, American Senators Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin wrote letters to Attorney General Eric Holder and the Drug Enforcement Administration urging them to “take immediate action and shut down the Silk Road network.” Just a week after being revealed to the world, the Silk Road brand was everywhere.

“That was great for business,” one Silk Road vendor told the Daily Dot.

The site became so popular that on July 1, 2011, Roberts began to charge 10 bitcoins to become a seller. That price would only go up.

For his part, Ulbricht seemed to be active all over the place. On Oct. 11, 2011, Altoid—the same user who originally advertised Silk Road—posted a wanted ad on BitcoinTalk looking for “an IT pro in the Bitcoin community.”

He asked interested parties to email “rossulbricht at gmail dot com,” a Google account with mountains of identifying information on it.


“He is utterly brilliant,” someone purporting to be Ulbricht’s friend recently wrote on Reddit.

“You know how people in college like to think they’re being all intellectual and have ‘deep’ conversations? Well, Ross was for real. He’d lose everyone in the conversation after a few minutes, he was just thinking through things at a level so profoundly different than the rest of us.”

As Dread Pirate Roberts, a name he allegedly adopted in February 2012, Ulbricht became a charismatic preacher with an audience of thousands.

“Here at Silk Road, we recognize the smallest minority of all, YOU!,” he wrote. “Every person is unique, and their human rights are more important than any lofty goal, any mission, or any program. An individual’s rights ARE the goal, ARE the mission, ARE the program.”

Roberts wrote a book’s worth of essays preaching anti-state libertarianism. “The drug war is an acute symptom of a deeper problem,” he wrote. “That problem is the state.”

“Silk Road is about something much bigger than thumbing your nose at the man and getting your drugs anyway. It’s about taking back our liberty and our dignity and demanding justice.”

Dread Pirate Roberts

In his days as a student, Ros s Ulbricht campaigned for Ron Paul and donated to his campaign. He professed a love of Austrian economics and libertarian politics. If he hadn’t launched the Deep Web’s most popular black market, as the FBI alleges, Ulbricht might have had a career in politics ahead of him. He certainly knew how to get adoring masses hanging on his every word.

But not everyone loved Dread Pirate Roberts.

In February 2012, a year after it launched, the Silk Road spun off a subsidiary market called the Armory. A fierce debate started up about the morality of selling weapons. Drugs are one thing—everyone on Silk Road was united in their love of legalization—but guns forced a wedge between users.

Roberts wrote several essays defending the new weapons market and its merits as the Armory tried to establish itself. Ultimately, it failed after just six months due to slow business.

While all sorts of drugs and, for a time, guns have been seen on Silk Road, there was more to the market. You could also buy forged documents, MacBooks, cellphone jammers or imitation designer fashion. There were some limits, however.

“Practically speaking, there are many powerful adversaries of Silk Road and if we are to survive, we must not take them all on at once,” reads the Silk Road Seller’s Guide. “Do not list anything who’s [sic] purpose is to harm or defraud, such as stolen items or info, stolen credit cards, counterfeit currency, personal info, assassinations, and weapons of any kind. Do not list anything related to pedophilia.”

All the above—from child pornography to weapons to stolen credit cards—are easily available in other marketplaces around the Web.

Many people have taken Roberts’s self-imposed regulations to mean that he wanted to run a market with a conscience. While that’s certainly true to some extent, it’s also worth noting that Roberts was a pragmatist. He knew that selling millions of dollars worth of drugs made enough enemies. Adding counterfeiting or credit card fraud only put more targets on his back.

And, as Ulbricht would allegedly find out, the Deep Web assassination market has always been full of frauds. Keeping supposed killers-for-hire off Silk Road had the extra benefit of keeping scams at bay.

For all the impressive technical skill it takes to set up an operation like Silk Road, Roberts obviously needed help.

“How can I connect to a Tor hidden service using curl in PHP?” an account named Ross Ulbricht wrote on StackExchange.com in March 2012. The code described in the question matches closely to the one code used on Silk Road.

The FBI alleges that a minute after posting the question, Ulbricht changed his account name to the more anonymous “frosty.” Later, he changed the account’s email from the Ulbricht GMail account to frosty@frosty.com, a fake address. It looks like Ulbricht was actually crowdsourcing tech support for Silk Road. But in the process, he was leaving a trail for the FBI.

In August 2012, Roberts announced that he was hiring a new Unix administrator with an attention-grabbing $1,000 referral prize.

Roberts explained that the new hire would essentially be an advisor without direct access to the server. Some enthusiastic fans said they passed the wanted ad onto qualified friends from heavyweight tech firms such as Cisco. Roberts said he was blown away by the caliber of applicants.

However, several top vendors lost significant confidence in Roberts on that day.

“He had severe limitations,” said one anonymous vendor. “He grossly overestimated his own skills.”

Users wondered if it was careless for Roberts to hire someone he didn’t know and trust. What if the guy was actually an undercover cop?

To celebrate the stoner holiday 4/20, the Silk Road held a big sale. In the excitement that followed, Tony76—likely the biggest vendor on Silk Road at this point—decided to offer holiday discounts on MDMA, heroin, cocaine, LSD, and ketamine to customers around the world. New customers flooded in to make their first purchase off of Tony76, the most trusted name in online drugs.

The account had originally been registered in January 2012. Within a week, he was selling heroin from Canada, and good reviews rolled in quickly, provoking excitement and even a little hopeful skepticism. Within three months, Tony76  had sold a wide selection of drugs to over 500 almost exclusively happy customers.

Tony began to require customers to “finalize early.” Instead of using Silk Road’s trusted escrow system, customers had to forward Bitcoins to Tony76 immediately. He needed to do this in order to stop scammers, who’d been demanding refunds and giving him bad reviews.

The holiday came and went. At first, great reviews of Tony76’s trademark high-quality ecstasy came in. But soon, negative reviews began to surface. Packages were late and Tony76 wasn’t responding to messages.

It soon became clear that virtually no one was receiving packages ordered during Tony76’s 4/20 sale.

Within a week of 4/20, users accused Tony76 of being a scam artist who just picked up and left with all the money he’d made from the sale. His defenders said that Tony76 had proven himself trustworthy already and that his doubters were “full of shit.”

Was Tony a cop? Was he a scammer? Was he arrested? How could anyone at Silk Road ever know?

Estimates of the total amount stolen ranged from $50,000 to $100,000. For weeks, Tony76’s biggest fans kept defending him. He was never heard from again.

While multiple Deep Web black markets boomed to million-dollar businesses, police around the world were not idle.

Silk Road’s biggest black market rival was busted in April 2012. The Farmer’s Market was founded in January 2007 as a normal website and later moved to Tor. With thousands of customers around the world, the Farmer’s Market was doing $1 million in sales. Instead of Bitcoin, TFM used services like PayPal and Western Union. And instead of the fully anonymous TorMail, TFM used the encrypted email service Hushmail, which eventually handed their communications over to the police.

Many Silk Roaders shrugged off the bust, believing that the Farmer’s Market was inherently less secure because of those operational differences.

The first confirmed arrest of a Silk Road user took place in July. Australian Paul Leslie Howard pleaded guilty to two charges of “importing a marketable quantity of a border-controlled drug—which carries a maximum of 25 years jail—and to trafficking controlled drugs and possessing 32 controlled weapons.

Howard’s arrest highlighted the “Australian problem.” Because Australia is an island and its border control is especially strict, mailing contraband is always more risky than to most other locales. Many vendors across various Deep Web black markets charge extra for Oz-bound products, if they allow the purchases at all.

Silk Road marched on. By August 2012, a Carnegie Mellon study by Nicolas Christin estimated the marketplace was doing approximately $22 million in sales in six months. In 2013, he adjusted his estimates to $30-$40 million.

At the time, numerous vendors scoffed at that number as too low. Today, the FBI alleges that the numbers are many times higher.

Silk Road boasted at least 220 distinct vendors in February 2012. It grew to 564 in July 2012.

Even amidst a booming population, there was an almost palpable sense of camaraderie in the Silk Road community. Many more knowledgeable users strived to help new users whose safety was put at risk by inexperience or downright incompetence.

“It’s a shame we’re all outlaws,” oldtoby wrote. “I’d enjoy grabbing a stout with some [Silk Road] forum folk sometime.”

By November 2012, Silk Road was in “uncharted territory” in terms of users, Roberts wrote. On Nov. 8, Roberts announced the first major cyberattack on Silk Road. A hacker had changed product images, added a “quick buy” option that included a Bitcoin address, removed shipping options, and then made it impossible to place a legitimate order for nearly a week. Around that time, several top Silk Road vendors had their accounts drained of all their money in a single day. Roberts attempted to keep the stealthy heist quiet and clashed with a moderator who spoke about it in public. The moderator was removed from staff. Several users wondered if the hacker was the new proud owner of Silk Road’s entire database. If so, would Roberts be honest about it? Could he even know for sure? Despite the attacks,  Silk Road felt near unstoppable to many of its users. The market was a mainstream smash. Teenagers regularly posted about their Silk Road deals on blogs. The unofficial Silk Road Facebook page grew to 2,000 fans. A major MDMA bust at Tulane University only seemed to confirm Silk Road’s ubiquity. The black market’s name could be heard in cities around the world. Major scams popped up occasionally. In February 2013, an Australian MDMA vendor named EnterTheMatrix conned customers out of tens of thousands of dollars in a Tony76-style sale. Most Silk Roaders—even the angry ones who lost out—shrugged it off as the cost of business. Silk Road’s unprecedented growth meant that people who were utterly incompetent began to do business there, too. Some vendors used regular email services such as Gmail, and buyers shared tracking numbers on packages. Some of the wealthiest drug dealers on the site didn’t use encryption. When one vendor uploaded a picture of heroin, he didn’t remove the photo’s metadata, thus revealing his exact location. Roberts took the photo down. But mistakes kept happening. “It really blows my mind how some people choose to vend on here without knowing, well, shit,” Silk Road user HEATfan wrote. It was impossible for anyone to protect all Silk Roaders from themselves. In early 2013, Silk Road staff and top vendors began “receiving emails from law enforcement offering financial incentives and immunity to prosecution to use our positions of trust to completely hammer the Silk Road defenses of vendors and if possible, Dread Pirate Roberts,” an anonymous vendor told the Daily Dot. The attacks seem to have taken a toll on Roberts. Most vendors passed forwarded him the police emails. But one vendor told the Daily Dot that Roberts seemed legitimately concerned  that someone would eventually turn. Only a short time prior, Roberts had acquired a reputation for dropping long missives about libertarian revolution. In 2013, those letters slowed drastically. One anonymous vendor said that Roberts’s demeanor changed drastically early in the year. In January 2013, the FBI claims that Roberts paid $80,000 for the torture and murder of a vendor he believed was stealing from Silk Road. The man paid for the hit turned out to be a U.S. federal agent. The torture and murder was staged. In March 2013, another federal charge alleges Dread Pirate Roberts was confronted by a Silk Road user named FriendlyChemist, who boasted of owning a long list of real names and addresses of Silk Road vendors. Unless Silk Road paid him $500,000, FriendlyChemist said he’d publish those names. Roberts apparently agreed to pay $150,000—but not to his blackmailer. Instead, he hired a hitman anonymously over the Deep Web, tasking him the murder of FriendlyChemist, whom he believed resided in Canada. No murders in Canada during the time period match the descriptions of the hit. The murder charges are glaring contradictions against the high-minded ideals that both Ross Ulbricht and Dread Pirate Roberts have publicly professed. On May 24, a Silk Road user sent Roberts a private message warning that an external IP address had been “leaking” from Silk Road during another round of maintenance. The FBI believes this address was a virtual private network (VPN) server, a secure network through which Roberts could remotely log into Silk Road from his own computer. One way to understand the technology is to imagine a VPN being a “private tunnel” between two computers, which allowed Roberts to access the Silk Road server without anyone knowing he was behind it. The leaked IP address resolved to a server company in the United Kingdom, an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation told the Daily Dot. That source believes that Roberts soon changed companies as a result of the leak. The FBI criminal complaint lists a number of Silk Road-related IPs, one of which implicates dataclub.biz, a server-hosting company, as the host for Silk Road’s forums. The hosting for Silk Road’s marketplace was separate. The locations are still unconfirmed. Although Roberts deactivated the code that leaked the IP and changed the way he accessed Silk Road, the information still eventually reached the FBI. No one outside of the FBI is quite sure how at this point. Silk Road’s hosting company was later subpoenaed by the FBI, who found the server contents wiped except for information on the last login from Laguna Street in San Francisco, right down the block from Ross Ulbricht’s residence. By July, Roberts was clearly intent on spending money on protecting himself and defending the Silk Road from law enforcement and hostile attacks. The FBI alleges that Ulbricht ordered nine fake IDs as part of an effort to build up a stock of servers to bolster Silk Road’s security. The IDs, which Ulbricht ordered on Silk Road, were intercepted at the Canadian-American border on July 10.

The Arrest of Ross Ulbricht

On July 23, Homeland Security visited Ulbricht’s San Francisco home and questioned him about the fake documents. For whatever reason, he told the agents that “hypothetically” anyone can buy IDs off of Silk Road on Tor. Shortly after police visited Ulbricht’s home, Dread Pirate Roberts agreed to his first on-the-record interview with a journalist. Forbes’ Andy Greenberg had sought the interview for eight months before finally landing it. The scoop, Roberts told Greenberg, was that Silk Road had been sold. He wasn’t the original owner of the black market. Roberts granted the interview to Forbes on July 4, just weeks before the FBI came knocking on his door. Even at the time, many Silk Roaders immediately disbelieved Roberts’ new claim, saying that it was just as y likely that there was a single person behind Roberts as half a dozen. On the day the interview made headlines around the tech world, Roberts publicly declared the war on drugs over, “and the guys with the bongs have won.” Freedom Hosting, an anonymous Web-hosting company and perhaps the most important and popular Deep Web service in existence outside of Silk Road, was busted Aug. 3. Few details have emerged about how law enforcement found and took down Freedom Hosting. Its fall shook the entire anonymous Web. Roberts felt compelled to address his website and confirm that he still had control of Silk Road. Aside from the largest trove of child pornography on the Internet, Freedom Hosting’s most interesting client was TorMail, the anonymous email of choice for Silk Road users. The FBI came into possession of the TorMail servers and all its data when they busted Freedom Hosting. Although Roberts has said he never used TorMail, almost all of his closest advisors and biggest sellers did, many of whom did not take basic precautions such as encrypting messages. Every unencrypted message became property of American and Irish law enforcement, who are believed to have shared the information with other agencies around the world. In addition to the pressure from law enforcement and the two murders that Roberts is charged with ordering, Silk Road faced a press from competitors. The rival black market Atlantis had a well-built website, produced TV-worthy commercials, and made several big waves across media.  A series of July upgrades on Silk Road were widely seen as a response to Atlantis. Black Market Reloaded remained a formidable rival and the foremost weapons market on the Deep Web. However, despite its apparent early successes, Atlantis suddenly closed on Sept. 20. Citing “security concerns outside of our control,” the market’s owners killed it for good. Due to a long-held suspicion of Atlantis, the shutdown was met with gloating from some Silk Roaders. However, one question underpinned even the biggest gloat: If someone can get to Atlantis, is it possible that they can get to Silk Road? Just days later, one of the oldest and most knowledgeable members of the Silk Road community announced that he was leaving. Kmfkewm, who once ran the Open Vendor Database, another online drug market, bid farewell to Silk Road for good on Sept. 29 for no discernible reason. He told fellow community members that his departure was nothing to worry about. Three days later, on Oct. 2, Silk Road was seized by the FBI. The criminal complaint alleges that 1,229,465 transactions were completed on the website from Feb. 6, 2011 to July 23, 2013, involving 146,946 unique buyer accounts  and 3,877 unique vendor accounts. The total revenue generated was 9,519,664 bitcoins, equivalent to $1.2 billion in revenue. Silk Road collected 614,305 in commission, or $79.8 million—although those numbers are difficult to adjust for the fluctuating value of Bitcoin. If these numbers are even close to true, Silk Road was many times bigger than any previous estimates. Police found Ulbricht in the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library. He’d taken a seat in the sci-fi section with his laptop. Patrons reported a crashing sound around the building. FBI agents descended upon Ulbricht as soon as he opened his laptop and entered his passwords, seizing his machine and marching him out. The police confiscated approximately $3.6 million in bitcoins. The end of Silk Road, along with the arrest of and allegations against Ulbricht, have inspired an outpouring of grief from Silk Roaders “This is supposed to be some invisible black market bazaar. We made it visible,” an unnamed FBI spokesperson told Forbes. “[N]o one is beyond the reach of the FBI. We will find you.” Despite that threat, the arrests of Silk Road vendors, and the end of the Deep Web’s most famous black market, the illegal commerce of the Deep Web marches on. Other marketplaces, such as Black Market Reloaded and Sheep Marketplace, are already attempting to fill the enormous vacuum left by Roberts. Over a dozen major Silk Road vendors have expressed interest in building new black markets, hoping to make launch something even bigger. Dread Pirate Roberts took a black market and forged it into a profound ideological statement—or was it just the new back-alley dope deal? Either way, Roberts launched a Silicon Valley success story, valued by the FBI at over $1 billion. No one should be surprised when an armada of new pirates emerges from over the horizon. Illustration by Jason Reed

Silk Road Homepage

NOTE: Read the 1st interview from Ross Ulbricht, since his arrest this Oct. “This is the first time I’ve been arrested,” Ulbricht volunteers. Really, I ask, no DUIs, no college high jinks? “Nope.” He tells me very matter of factly that he spends 20 to 22 hours a day in his cell alone, with just a window in the door to the pod, and a blurred one to the outdoors. He gets let out for showers or to go out to the yard accompanied by guards, but not with other inmates. He can hear other prisoners talking through the walls, but rarely adds anything. His daily interactions: a few comments with guards, one hour of phone time a day to family members and friends who’ve registered to receive his calls. He eats in his cell—the food’s not half bad, he says. The other inmates in his pod know who he is from watching the TV news, but Ulbricht has no view of the TV from his cell. Of course—do I need to even ask?—he isn’t permitted internet access. For a man who allegedly built the world’s most intricately connected online drug empire, Ulbricht now finds himself in the most unlikely of places: Totally out of the loop. He says he’s been “isolated” from the wall-to-wall press coverage that’s been dissecting everything about his life, from his high school pencil drawings to his adult turn towards libertarianism. I tell him about the reporter from Forbes who tracked down his former roommates on 15th Avenue, and he looks astonished. He repeats the statement back to me as a question, unbelieving. When I say his name on Google brings up an endless string of news stories about his takedown, he replies that it used to only bring up hits about his accomplishments in physics. To read the full article in situ, click here along with many other background articles.


Undercover agents made over 100 Silk Road purchases. The Rise and Fall of Silk Road’s Heroin Kingpin (a story about a heroin vendor on Silk Road – worth a read!)

Traveling the Silk Road: A measurement analysis of a large anonymous online marketplace; Nicolas Christin, Carnegie Mellon INI/CyLab (A Silk Road study)

Dying to be Heard

This all brings me back to one of the best guys we could have on our side as a community (or not even!) of people who use drugs. Theo Van Dam, once a strident, unflinching, innovative, brilliant user activist in Amsterdam (a real honest to God fore-runner of the whole user movement) -who now, at late 50′s/early 60′s or so, has put aside his fighting talk, his incredible persuasive manner who could sell an ice to an Inuit (as they say!) has re-invented himself and naturally as a humans evolution, he now speaks at funerals and remembrance days.

Not Theo's quote but an interesting comment on how funerals are changing;click on pick to hear about a womans take of different funeral styles

Not Theo’s quote but an interesting comment on how funerals are changing; click on pick to hear about a womans take of different funeral styles



















He stands with the family and friends and says all the powerful, and beautiful words of remembrance that no one else dares to say. He acknowledges their place in the community, even if the community was ‘one of the guys on that park bench, you know, the one with his ol’ dog close at his side and his little woven bag that doubled as a pillow yet held everything in the world that was necessary and loved. Theo would talk about the whole person -the time this or that happened, talk warmly about the generous, kind, stubborn yet loyal person that would always have time for a chat for anyone who passed by the park bench. It didn’t even matter whether Theo knew the person lying prostrate in front of everyone -or not. Whether he admired and adored them, or wasn’t on very cool terms with them at the time they died. It was OK. Theo was there to ensure the person themselves -their life -with all its ups and downs -were captured and celebrated, not brushed under the carpet and hidden so everyone felt to uncomfortable to even mention what the person had been doing the last 30 years. Even more so – allowing the parents to hear that their child was a real person -who loved, lost, laughed and fought -like all of us -and that their drug/alcohol use should/must be accepted as part of their life, their journey, their experience. It contributed to who they are. It cannot be denied – or you deny your child/sibling/friend – and those who cared for him that lived in the same world.

We all need a Theo at our funerals, a celebrant to shine a touching light on our friends, ensuring they are laid to rest with everyone knowing the person -not the myth, not the stereotype, not the’failure or tragic child led astray. We are the summary of our experiences – all of our experiences – the good, the bad, the ugly.

Some days, Theo didn’t need to know who lay there in the coffin. The idea had been to simply turn up (he is now always invited!) and if he felt that heavy, asphyxiating silence fall, like heavy clouds of snowflakes on the shoulders of the family and friends, and the gentle but nervous shuffling of the priest’s ceremonial slippers as he looked around for someone to stand tall and proud and say a heartfelt speech about their loved one, talk briefly about their huge, momentous loss, and wait for the niece or uncle to read out a piece from the deceased favourite novel or poem…well, it sounds comforting doesnt it? But the person in the coffin has been living on the street for almost a decade. Their toes needed operating on to stop them rotting and re-infecting the next one. There parents hadnt seen them for 15 years…they wanted to cover over their fears…

dont let your loved one be constrained by legal and societal judgments even in death

dont let your loved one be constrained by legal and societal judgments even in death

The reality was that no-one at that funeral knew who the person in the coffin was anymore. Close buddies hadn’t been invited, Christ -they were all alcoholics and junkies! The parents expected it would be a disaster. No, they must be buried quickly, happy memories of the childhood rehashed, and everyone would just smudge out the last 20 years. It was a wasted time anyway, those years, they ruined their life, wasted chances, threw offers of help back in the families faces. God, they hadn’t even tried to pay back any of that money nice auntie Kay gave to them to get a deposit on bedsit. No, his homeless friends were not invited -some of them were with him when he died. ‘Imagine that’ the relatives think. ‘They are so wasted and hopeless, they can’t even tell one of their ‘friends’ are dying -they said he was just snoring…No, the funerals of  many thousands and thousands of us have been like this. It needs to change now.

So many families hadnt really known their loved one for  years. They hadn’t invited them to a family function for over 15 years -no birthdays, no christmas, no easter, no new year….it could have been embarrassing after all. Even if someone had been bold enough to invite them,  would they have gone? Would the feel comfortable, welcome, relaxed???What would they wear? What would they say they had been doing ‘lately’? How does one cope with the stares, the feelings of fear, of children’s wide eyed staring from behind mums skirt;

No, most funerals of people who died from drugs are strained…But strained for different reasons. Not from holding back waves of pain and loss! Or rather, pain and loss that is secret. Dark and lonely. shameful. Words that lie stuck deep down in the throat, words of love and caring locked inside a black box of shame and confusion. Of crippling pain, pain that will never fully ease for the parents and loved ones because they know  they judged their loved one in life when they didn’t really understand anymore. It weighs heavily forever. The funeral Theo encourages, provides a chance for everyone to relax and share and celebrate a human beings life – all those they loved, things they shared, families they were a part of, tragedies they fought through, those special and raare qualities they had.

We alll need a Theo.

Remember that on International Remembrance Day July 21st, or any day a drug using friend dies. Dont let their lives be erased in ignorance. Celebrate the whole life, and bring everyone peace.

If you want to reach Theo in Amsterdam to talk to him further about his ideas etc, add comment and we will forward them to him immediately.

Travis Jenkins Award 2008; Thanking Theo

As the lights dimmed in the auditorium and, for the last time this year the spotlight zeroed in on the podium speaker, a tall lanky Dutchman in a sharp black suit made his way up the stage steps to collect a few dues.After 2 decades of innovative and inspirational work within the drug using community, Theo Van Dam smiled broadly as he accepted the 2008 Travis Jenkin’s award from IHRA on the final day of their popular international conference. An award presented to current or former drug users who have made an outstanding contribution to reducing drug related harm, this year Theo was publicly acknowledged by a distinguished international cohort of colleagues, peers and admirers.He wasn’t the only one smiling. As this greatly admired and respected Dutchman sprung up the steps of the IHRA stage to collect his award, I felt myself grinning from ear to ear. It was a great moment – a chance to acknowledge a lifetime of workfrom one of the most well known and respected drug user activists of our times.

Theo has been at the forefront of the fight for the health, welfare and rights of drug users, from within his home in the Netherlandsand internationally. His creative and freethinking approach, his willingness and commitment, his humour – all coupled with his highly principled nature has made him one of the most inspirational and active Drug User Activists in the world.

Throughout the 90’s Theo fought hard to put harm reduction not just on the political agenda, but inside the minds of the using community. His direct approach was unique and he was as up front about how he delivered harm reduction to Dutch users and dealers, as he was to government officials and drug workers.

To try and write succinctly on Theo’s unique contribution to harm reduction leaves me hampered. I’m not sure of the finer details or of the dates of his projects and work.

I do know however, that as a young activist at the IHRA conference in Geneva (in 98/9?) hearing of the work Theo was doing amongst the using community left me feeling anything was possible. His idea behind starting International Drug User Day on November 1st was inspired and the 1st ever international gathering in Amsterdam in 2002? is still talked about today. The IDUD in now an international event, where drug users all over the world unite to protest, lobby, debate and discuss ways to reduce drug related harm, throw off the shackles of stereotyping and discrimination, push forward for effective peer and societal education about drugs, drug use and drug users and save lives.

Theo Van Dam came with the first wave of true international user activism, his experience is valuable, his commitment and belief in his work, is total. This year, the harm reduction world acknowledged and, most importantly thanked Theo Van Dam for his efforts, and I, still an activist he still inspires, thank him wholeheartedly too.

Thanks Theo. xx



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