International Drug User Day, Nov 1st, 2014

International Drug User Day 2014 – Let’s hear 3 cheers for that activists

activist -Theo Van Dam, the beautiful Dutchman who came up with the

brilliant idea of a day in the calendar to celebrate the existence, the

achievements, the lives and the work of people who use drugs and their

brave and courageous direct actions that have been challenging wrongs

and fighting injustice, wherever it lies in the world.

Drug User’s must always be part of the solution and never framed only as the problem. Our  lived, perceptive and insightful lives will always provide our communities with the insight and language to tackle the issues that black markets have left us; society must work with the drug using community to end the crippling discrimination, criminalization, marginalization and isolation felt by too many – generation to generation; and for what? So some could drink beer while others could not smoke dope? So some could arrest an entire  people of colour while others could put on the guards hat and boots while swinging the keys in the lock, stops the clock….IDUD is our day friends -walk tall, believe in yourself not based on your drug or the frequency you use it, but based on the person you really are deep down. Drug users will not be defined by their substance or by societys ignorance; only by the quality of their soul at the gates. Yessirree! November 1st – celebrate it all day friends!

Life Goes on In Crimea, (unless your on methadone…)

Life Goes On in Russia’s Crimea

Here are the final 2 blogs in the series of 4, from Igor Kuzmenko’s personal blogs of Crimea, in particular, life for those who once lived under Ukraine law and received Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST) such as methadone only to lose their new found stability after the region’s Referendum when the majority voted to go back to Russian governance. This effectively closed the doors for good on OST leaving over 800 people in shock and despair. So what is a person withdrawing from treatment supposed to do? What would you do if your access to methadone or buprenorphine was cut off almost overnight…? Igor gives us a frighteningly honest account of what happened to the OST community in Crimea..Here is part 3 and part 4.

NOTE: Part one and two are a bit further down this blog and the whole series has been reprinted here courtesy of INPUD’s blog and you can also read them in Russian at ENPUD’s website /blog. Thanks to Igor for a fascinating insight into Crimea for the drug using community, and INPUD for reprinting.

 

RIP Crimean OST Program, 2006

small_igor (1)

Igor Kuzmenko

Part 3

Meanwhile life in the Crimea went on. As spring approached, people continued to go to work, and students proceeded to attend their studies. Very few inhabitants of the Crimea understood that 806 people of the region’s  population, were literally on the way out.

 

Death From Abstinence

As I  wrote previously, the first patient in Simferopol died around the beginning of April. He was about 50, was seriously ill and couldn’t move at all. Everything was good with him before the March events; the doctor wrote a prescription for him so he could get liquid methadone and he continued to use Opiate Substitution Therapy without leaving the apartment. But after March 16, everything changed and the prescription form of OST was suspended in Crimea. It goes without saying that any coroner wouldn’t determine a cause of death as ‘death from abstinency’. But something tells me that if he continued to have the opportunity to receive methadone, he would be still alive.

 

 But after March 16, everything changed and the prescription form of OST was suspended in Crimea.

 

Bupe Not Methadone

Actually,  there were not so many people receiving OST on a prescription basis in the Crimea. And there were a few reasons for that. First,  the prescription form is possible only for those people who receive buprenorphine in Ukraine. There are cities where all clients of the buprenorphine program constantly receive it using a prescription. But everything is much more difficult when dealing with methadone.

ukrainianmethadone

The medicine used in a Ukrainian methadone OST program – known as ‘Metadict’ and ‘Metadole’ – are both made in Germany or Canada. Both of them are in the form of tablets, not syrup. They come in blister packs of 10 tablets: 25 mg each, (total 250mg)  or in bottles of 500 mg. But it is impossible to get it using a prescription because according to the laws of Ukraine a single prescription dose of any narcotic substance mustn’t exceed 112 mg. The blister packs are not allowed to be cut up or tablets prescribed separately from the packaging. There were individual cases when patients could receive a liquid methadone on prescription, but only on a commercial basis and it is very expensive.

 

Methadone Not Bupe

In the Crimea, it is different. Slightly more than 50 people out of 806 patients received buprenorphine, the others got methadone. About 10 people out of those 50 had the opportunity to receive buprenorphine on prescription though not on a constant basis. They got it occasionally – because of a business trip, illness or going on a holiday.

ukrainian-methadone-metadol

Ukrainian methadone; Metadol

 

There is also one more reason for prescriptions being shut down in the Crimea after “the referendum”. Doctors were afraid to write out prescriptions on both of these substances because they are actually illegal in Russia and so employees of drugstores in turn, were afraid to sell the medications and fill  these prescriptions.

 

May 20th – D Day

May 20 was the last day when people could use the OST program in the Crimea, so after that each of the 806 person’s who were prescribed had to make one’s own choices of what to do. There were only four options:

  1. String oneself up to stop using drugs forever
  2. Go to Russian local rehabilitation centers praised by numerous Russian “guests”;
  3. Continue using OST by moving to Ukraine;
  4. Go back to using “street” drugs.

According to my knowledge, no more than 20-30 people went to Russia for rehab. Many of them couldn’t undergo an entire “rehabilitation course” till the end and ran away. However, some stayed in rehab for the whole term. One OST client from Simferopol died in St. Petersburg during the rehabilitation process. He died of an overdose.

Slightly less than 60 people risked going to Ukraine. This option was, undoubtedly, the most realistic of all. For example, in many cases it was necessary to buy tickets at ones’ own expense to go to Russia, but in Ukraine both tickets, accommodation and food were paid for you.

 

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Nevertheless, as you can see by the number of people who went to Ukraine, it didn’t become a mass phenomenon. Partly, this was due to mass media propaganda which colourfully described the various ‘atrocities’ of Ukrainians in relation to the inhabitants of the Crimea who risked leaving and facing the ‘mockeries’ of the Ukrainian border guards who were taking away passports on the border and other nonsense. The other reason that many of inhabitants of the Crimea never left for Ukraine, was they had neither friends, nor relatives there and simply couldn’t imagine where they were supposed to go.

Now many of the clients of OST who had gone to Ukraine, already found a job there, and all without exception found rented accommodation and received some financial support from the project MBF “Renaissance”.

 

“It turns out that more than 600 people started taking street drugs again.”

 

From those people with whom I was in contact no more than 10 people could finally stop taking drugs of any kind.    If you make simple arithmetic operation, it turns out the following:

806 (total number of clients in the Crimea OST program) minus 20 (number of those who undergone “rehabilitation” in Russia), minus 60 (left to Ukraine), minus 50 (suppose not 10, but 50 people stopped taking drugs) = 676.

About 30 already died out of that number of people. It turns out that more than 600 people started taking street drugs again. And many of them during many years of using the OST program found work, started a family and gave birth to children.  Now it’s all over.

 Igor Kuzmenko

Below is the final part of Igor Kuzmenko’s series on Crimea. Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments and let us know if you have a story to tell from your country.

 RIP Crimean OST Program, 2006

 

Igor Kuzmenko

Igor Kuzmenko

Part 4

How to reach those people who made decisions on the issues of Opiate Substitution Therapy (OST)  in the Crimea? Which words should be found to explain to them that situation where 800 drug users under constant medical and psychological control, employed and reintegrated, is much better than 800 people coming back to being criminalised in the drug trade? How could one explain what the blue sky is to the person born blind? How it is possible to explain to a mother, whose son quietly had been using OST for several years, stopped breaking the law, started a family and found a job, why he has died of an overdose during the rehabilitation? Who benefits from it?

“What we had been created for several years was destroyed in two and a half months.”

Probably, for those people who have nothing to do with OST and don’t have the slightest idea of what this therapy actually is, it is only a “change of the dealer” – earlier I bought drugs on the street and now I get them free of charge from the doctor. But actually OST is a difficult system in which the process of taking methadone or buprenorphine is only a small part of the whole process. OST is a complex of actions that allow the person to live a more or less productive life. Many elements of this scheme, such as the ART (Anti Retroviral Therapy*), anti-tubercular therapy, are strongly connected with OST. There is no point in pretending otherwise, many people started to use ART and to look after their health only after they visited the OST site.

 

Irina, a client from the OST program

Irina, a client from the OST program

Stability and the Street

What we had been created for several years was destroyed in two and a half months.

So, more than 600 former people from the OST programs have taken part in the illicit drug scene again since May. What do our people use to medicate themselves with now?

Lyrica. This beautiful and romantic word is actually the name for one of the biggest problems of the Crimean drug scene nowadays. Lyrica (active agent – Pregabalin). An antiepileptic and anticonvulsive medical product made by Pfizer Company. Many ex-OST patients are suffering from its over-use today. It has excellent medical qualities if you take it on prescription, but it causes terrible side effects and dependence for those people who try to combat withdrawal syndrome with its help. It is sold freely in any drugstore in the Crimea and costs not so much.

Only a total deficiency of any medical products in local drugstores is saving others from the serious consequences of pharmaceutical drug dependence in the Crimea.

“Now I hear from people who were full of vim and vigor, who had plans for the future just two months ago, that they want to die.”

Checks. “Checks” is how people name portions of raw opium from which it is possible to extract heroin, if you add acetic anhydride to it.

“Checks” existed in the Crimea as far back as I can remember. It is a good reliable way to quickly recover from withdrawal syndrome. You could get “checks” quite easily at any time. But after the OST programs were closed, hundreds of drug users suddenly entered the market (more than 200 people just in Simferopol! ) and devastated all the opium reserves in the Crimea. Moreover, new anti-narcotic structures represented by the Russian police (all police officers came to the Crimea from the Russian cities – Perm, Kazan, Moscow, there are not any local representatives in police) and by Federal Service on Control of the Drug trafficking (FDCS) – the nightmare of the Russian drug users. The increase in number of “checks” users led to a decrease in its supply and importing from Ukraine became a big problem.

By hearsay, so as not to suddenly miss an opportunity to increase profits, dealers began to add foreign substances to their product, it could be harmless substances or hard shit like home-made methadone. New police forces and new circumstances around buying drugs has led to the situation where purchasing “checks” poses a big problem now.

Heroin. I often hear from people in the Crimea that there is lot of cheap heroin here now. But I couldn’t find even one person who saw or tried that heroin. So I can draw a conclusion that there is not and there was not any heroin in the Crimea.

Krokodil. I assure you that if it wasn’t for a deficiency of medical products in drugstores, including codeine-containing ones, “krokodil” would now be problem No. 1 in the Crimea. But every cloud has a silver lining.  People just can’t find the substance that you should use to make this poison, and that’s why krokodil isn’t present in the Crimean drug scene.

“Well, this is how it goes.”

Well, this is how it goes.

Now I hear from people who were full of vim and vigor, who had plans for the future just two months ago that they want to die. Former patients aren’t able to go to work because they suffer from never-ending withdrawal syndrome. Their families suffer as much as they do.

I am an optimist.  My glass is always half full. But I can’t see anything optimistic in the future of those from the last OST programme in Crimea.

Well, who knows, maybe I’m mistaken.

Written by Igor Kuzmenko

*ART: Anti Retroviral Therapy is a medical treatment for HIV/AIDS

 

All 4 parts in the Crimean OST series has been written by Igor Kuzmenko and here’s a massive public thank you to him for his really honest and personal insights into what it has been like for our peers in the region, and answering many of our questions too, I’m sure. The blogs were translated from Russian into English by the very professional Daria Mighty, and we are indebted to her speed and accuracy, thank you Daria! (The Russian version is available atENPUD)
If you want to find out more about the drug using community and its issues in the region of Eurasia, or you are living in that part of the world, check out INPUD’s sister organisation on their website ENPUD (The Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs). You can become a member, read other blogs from Igor and others and find out the news and views on drug issues and politics.

So Just What has Happened to Silk Road Lately?…Reincarnation of course!

 

Colin Moore

Colin Moore

A really interesting article from writer Colin Moore from a terrific (new-ish) drug news website called Substance.com. I have copied the article directly from their website complete with links and credits of course. Most of the article is reprinted here but to read the rest you’ll have to go to the site itself, which might I add is well worth the trip. Subscribe with just an email address and they will send you daily or weekly updates of really interesting articles about the weird and wonderful world of substances! Photos courtesy of Via

Does Dark Web Drug Dealing Make the World a Better Place?

Cybermarkets are seen to promote individual liberty, violence-free transactions and less-contaminated drugs. Is their main failing simply their inability to scale up massively? Substance.com investigates.

 

Silk Road 2. Since the feds shut down Silk Road, it only took 6 weeks before it was reinvented and back on line. And, instead of leaving 4 online drug markets  in its place, dozens have appeared to replace it, and Silk Road reincarnated, sees to be doing better than ever. Doh! The Feds get it wrong again!

Silk Road 2. Since the feds shut down Silk Road, it only took 6 weeks before it was reinvented and back on line. And, instead of leaving 4 online drug markets in its place, dozens have appeared to replace it, and Silk Road reincarnated, sees to be doing better than ever. Doh! The Feds get it wrong again!

“Silk Road is transforming a notoriously violent industry into a safe online marketplace, removing the risk of face-to-face transactions. We [are] humanity’s first truly free, anonymous, unbiased marketplace.”

These were the first words of the welcome on the homepage of Silk Road, the first-ever illegal Dark Web drug market, when the site went live in February 2011. They were written by the site’s founder Dread Pirate Roberts—real name: Ross William Ulbricht—who was then a 27-year-old self-described libertarian in thrall to the idea of real freedom: “Freedom from violence, from arbitrary morals and law, from corrupt centralized authorities and from centralization altogether.”

The illegal Dark Web, which is only accessible by volunteer-operated encrypted networks like Tor, attracts many “freedom-loving” types—libertarians, hackers, anarchists—as well as criminals of all kinds. It is home to a vast underground of black markets that move contraband. Trafficking has always been a high-reward, high-risk business. The creation of a massive anonymous online drug trafficking operation enabled Ulbricht to make more than $80 million in less than three years—even as he called himself a revolutionary promoting freedom, and safer drug selling, buying and using, and an end to prohibition and the violence of the drug war.

In October 2013, the FBI arrested Ulbricht and shut down Silk Road. He is now in jail awaiting trial on charges including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking—and conspiracy to commit murder. This advocate of nonviolence allegedly paid hit men to kill a blackmailer and one of his employees. (One of the guns for hire was an undercover cop.)

Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, which was started to promote some very serious  ethical ideals, encouuraging better drugs, less rip offs, safer transactions where the user cold finally avoid the more dangerous street black market...

Ross Ulbricht, the founder of Silk Road, which was started to promote some very serious ethical ideals, encouraging a space that was free “… from violence, from arbitrary morals and law, from corrupt centralized authorities and from centralization altogether.”

His personal legal problems, however, do not invalidate his claims about Silk Road’s higher mission. It is still possible to ask, with a straight face, whether drug “cryptomarkets” are—or are capable of—transforming the illegal drug trade from a violent struggle between ruthless organized crime groups to a network of individual entrepreneurs and consumers. Or, more modestly, do these markets—or can they—promote safer drug dealing and using? Substance.com surveyed vendors and customers on Silk Road 2.0 and other cybermarkets and evaluated new research to answer these questions.

The FBI’s success in shutting down Silk Road did not spell doom for the illegal online drug bazaar. By November 2013, Silk Road administrators had a better-protected 2.0 version up and running. Meantime, rival marketplaces, such as Agora and Evolution, continue to operate, with Agora quickly becoming the new standard for online drug transactions. Its main competitor, Black Market Reloaded, shut down in November 2013 after its source code was leaked. After that, Sheep was the main competitor until it too went under—and stole a treasure in users’ bitcoin, the peer-to-peer crypto currency. A big part of Black Market Reloaded’s success came from its willingness to sell lethal weapons—even dynamite and other explosives. By contrast, Silk Road offers a wide range of merchandise but draws the line at weapons; the staff, who work on commission, take measures to reduce user risks, such as product contamination.

Some Silk Road 2.0 vendors voice on their profiles a belief in the freedom to use illegal drugs recreationally and a commitment to a safe forum for people to exercise that freedom. A vendor with over 1,000 successful sales, JustSmuggledN, writes: “This job is done because of the belief in freedom of choice, as we are free spirits who deserve that right. Our policy is to live by these principles and we make it our mission to satisfy all of our clients! We believe in good business practices and we run our operation that way.”

“Whereas violence was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts,” the authors write, “the virtual location and anonymity that the cryptomarket provides reduces or eliminates the need—or even the ability—to resort to violence.”
The site’s forums engender discussion of the concepts of freedom, philosophy, economics, justice and drug safety. For example, in a November 2013 post, AussieMitch writes, “I believe that the consumption of mind-altering substances by consenting adults is a fundamental human right that is being impinged on by current government policy in much of the world. I believe that protecting the rightful freedoms of my fellow humans by subverting the current laws and assisting others in doing so is not only ethically justifiable but also morally commendable.” He includes his own 10-point ethical code for participation in the drug marketplace.
 

The Dark Web Model and the Drug War
 

Silk Road 2.0 was up and running the month after Silk Road was shut down. 
A new study suggests that these underground drug marketplaces may—if scaled up enormously, in some distant future—pose an actual challenge to the cartel business model. Called “Not an ‘eBay for Drugs’: The Cryptomarket “Silk Road” as a Paradigm-Shifting Criminal Innovation” and authored by University of Manchester criminal science expert Judith Aldridge and University of Lausanne legal expert David Decary-Hetu, the study uses a tailor-made web crawler to scrape feedback and review data from Silk Road’s vendor profiles. Some surprising findings result. The most significant is that the amount of Silk Road’s bulk sales is much greater than analysts had previously estimated. It turns out that many customers are small-scale “street” dealers obtaining inventory on the Dark Web rather than traditional organized crime channels.

Estimated sales on Silk Road jumped from $14.4 million in mid-2012 to $89.7 million in the month before its shutdown, an increase of more than 600%. On average, 40% of these sales consisted of bulk buys; the top 20% included, for example, purchases of cannabis ranging from $1,000 to $1,475 and of ecstasy for $3,494. Many vendors offer their product at lower “dealer” prices when bought in bulk; some customers buy in bulk several times a month. In addition, “precursor” ingredients for hallucinogens, say, or methamphetamine are available for would-be producers and sellers.

“This new breed of drug dealer is…likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets,” the authors write. “Whereas violence [in the traditional drug trade] was commonly used to gain market share, protect turfs and resolve conflicts, the virtual location and anonymity that the cryptomarket provides reduces or eliminates the need—or even the ability—to resort to violence.”

The claim that these drug cryptomarkets are comparatively free of violence is sound enough. But the authors go further, arguing that because this alternative drug supply chain has access to a worldwide market of new customers and the ability to operate in a low-risk environment through anonymous exchanges, it could—if scaled up—transform the global drug trade. That assertion may look good on paper, but in reality, the total revenue of the Dark Web drug market is minuscule compared to the $500 billion annual market of the cartels. While Silk Road’s 600% annual increase in sales indicates the alternative model’s growth potential, scaling up to a size capable of posing a competitive threat to the cartel business is impossible to credit.

“My hunch is that Silk Road may already be hitting some scalability limits due to the Tor network itself,” Carnegie Mellon computer security professor Nicolas Christin told The Daily Dot. “Although it has grown by leaps and bounds, it is still not a very large network, and most relays are run by volunteers. Hidden services are still a very experimental feature with known issues.”
 

The Safety of Deals and Drugs on the Dark Web

Putting the Zetas out of business may be off the table for Silk Road, but Silk Road gets high marks when it comes to improving the safety of drug transactions. Safety may be the main attraction of these sites for buyers and sellers. When Substance.com asked 20 participants on the forums, not a single one of them believed that transactions in Dark Web marketplaces present a danger from either law enforcement or violent or competing drug dealers.

“I started selling my products online when dealing on the streets became too dangerous for me and my family,” Australian cannabis and pharmaceuticals vendor TheSlyFox says. “Years ago, when I was 18, I sold small $50 bags of cannabis to a customer who bought from me successfully three times before. But the fourth time, I was seriously assaulted and robbed by seven Samoan New Zealanders. They stole all of my drugs, my money and left me to die.” Since he began selling his goods online, he has not encountered even the threat of violence.

The danger in buying drugs from street dealers sends many consumers to Silk Road. A Pennsylvania man described how an armed drug dealer ordered him to show his track marks to prove that he was not an undercover cop. “If I’m going down,” the dealer said, “I’m going to take you with me.” The man didn’t have track marks, but his accompanying friend did, sparing both of their lives. After two other life-threatening street deals, he started purchasing drugs from a trusted broker who buys online on behalf of others for a small fee.

goodies to buy. But there are no new vendors on SR2 these days, only old vendors from Silk Road are permitted to sell these days, seems it is safer that way...

goodies to buy. But there are no new vendors on SR2 these days, only old vendors from Silk Road are permitted to sell these days, seems it is safer that way…

Silk Road beats the street in the safety not only in the buying but also the selling of the drugs themselves. “Reducing face-face interaction was really important to me since a dealer mistrusting me is always an awful feeling and the situation might escalate,” says PGX83, an Agora user. “However, I didn’t primarily switch from traditional street deals to online marketplaces because of safety. It’s just more comfortable, you have a nice review system and can order directly from manufacturers guaranteeing better quality and also better prices.”

The purity of a street drug is typically unknown to the consumer; the further down the supply chain the product moves, the more cutting it goes through. With street heroin differing ratios of pure heroin to fentanyl or other substances can result in a fatal overdose. Silk Road features numerous listings that advertise high purity and sometimes include pictures of the product alongside chemical or EZ-test results. EZ tests, the most popular quick chemical testing kit, are also sold on the site. Small-scale drug dealers who source from Silk Road are likely get cleaner drugs (and lower prices), and may in turn sell a purer, safer product.

Read the rest of this article on Substance.coms website – and be sure to subscribe while your there for some really cool, well written drug related stories -for the drug enthusiast.

Colin Moore is a Pennsylvania-based writer who has been following the trends in the Dark Web’s illegal marketplaces for several years. Previously he wrote press releases and content for a media group in Texas, started a small alternative newsletter about local events, and wrote a monthly column for a local music e-zine, Get M.A.D.E.

 

 

Another place that thinks its fine to kidnap users…

Just thought I would put in a story i saw on the BBC website today. It has left me cold and angry. I get so sick and tired of people who just think it is ok to come and take someone away, lock them up, beat them if necessary, maybe if your lucky your parents know where you are but you don’t get out until they let you…Guatemala, ok so it is having problems with a crack surge, but for Goddsake, this is a money making scam and a human rights violation. Why do we think its ok to just take a person who uses drugs, and think that there life is so worthless, that no one really cares enough to save them, that they actually need to be kidnapped, locked up and never let out. That it is ok to ‘treat’ them psychologically with any sort of unproven bullshit  for hours and days or months at a time. That they need to be made into slaves to work scrubbing floors or cleaning toilets…It is a disgrace and a scam and we need to keep the UN, who it says, said in 2012 that these places must be shut down (enforced treatment centres)…is there something the using community can do to speed this up? 

The rehab centres that lock up addicts against their will

A man behind bars

In Guatemala, behind barred and locked doors, thousands of drug addicts are offered treatment by Protestant churches. Christianity offers salvation for some but many are held against their will, and some are swept off the street by “hunting” parties.

“They grabbed me. They found me completely out of it on the streets, and they just grabbed me.”

Marcos is a big guy. With closely cropped hair, and a huge expanse of chest, he is not the kind of man to tackle lightly. But Marcos was accosted by a group of men in Guatemala City and forcibly taken to a private, Christian rehabilitation centre.

“I was there for about a month and a half, and nobody knew anything about me. People thought I was killed or something, because that’s what happens in Guatemala.”

“I saw terrible things in that rehab – the owner used to beat up the girls. He would tie up the guys and roll them up like a taco in a piece of carpet, and leave them there for hours,” he says.

Listen to Linda Pressly’s report from Guatemala City on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday at 11:00 BST – or find it soon after on BBC iPlayer

Marcos was freed when a friend came looking for him, and demanded his release. He doesn’t think enforced rehab is the right approach and says it did nothing to help him quit his alcohol and drug habit.

“People came out madder and more furious. Instead of being rehabilitated, you just went out to get high again.”

Marcos grew up in the United States – a refugee from Guatemala’s civil war in the 1980s – but was deported back to his parents’ homeland after serving a prison sentence. With family in California, the owner of the rehab centre saw Marcos as a money-making proposition – he tried, and failed, to get contact details for Marcos’ family to ask them for money for Marcos’ keep.

All that is behind him now – Marcos is clean, and is dedicated to mentoring young people.

As there is no residential, state provision for addicts in Guatemala, private rehabilitation facilities have filled the vacuum. There may be as many as 200 Christian centres in Guatemala, possibly holding 6,000 people, estimates Dr Kevin O’Neill, from the University of Toronto, who has made an anthropological study of the centres. It is not known how many of them practice the aggressive “hunting” Marcos experienced.

A rehab centre with metal bars on the outsideOne of the private rehabilitation centres that have sprung up in Guatemala City

O’Neill believes Guatemala is confronting a surge of addiction. Its strategic location in Central America means the majority of illicit narcotics moving from South America to the United States make landfall here. And the fallout is a growing local market for highly addictive drugs like crack cocaine.

“It’s increased the number of centres in the capital city. But it’s also changed the culture inside the centres – the internal dynamics have become much more aggressive, and much more discipline-driven because of the rise of crack cocaine,” he says.

The founder and director of the Rescatados del Abismo, Rescued from the Abyss, centre is Pablo Marroquin, a born-again Christian and former drug addict.

Pablo Marroquin at his rehab centre

“I’d been in other rehabilitation centres, but I wanted to make mine more personal. I put it in the hands of God – he’s the only one who can rescue us from drug addiction,” he says.

Marroquin lives on the ground floor of an unremarkable building in Guatemala City with his family, his budgerigars, and a pack of small, snappy dogs.

On the first floor, behind a locked, barred door, 54 addicts mill around. Many of them will not be allowed to leave for at least three months – but it could be years. Only the addicts’ families or the director himself sanction the release of those interned here.

It is a confined space for so many people – the size of a large, three-bedroom flat. Off a common area, there is a bathroom, a room stacked with roughly-constructed bunks for those with privileges -most inmates sleep on the floor – and a bedroom for the six women internees.

A man sits on the floor against the wall, eating out of a bowl

Currently, the smooth running of the centre is down to Carlos – an internee who has been into rehab more than 30 times to try to overcome his addiction to crack cocaine and alcohol. Carlos imposes discipline and punishment at Rescatados del Abismo.

“When people arrive they can be very violent, and the only way to respond to that is with violence. It makes me uncomfortable, but it’s extremely important to maintain discipline here,” he says.

CarlosCarlos, an internee himself, maintains order at Rescatados del Abismo

Forcing an internee to clean the floors or to work at night are other forms of punishment.

Internees are partly controlled by compulsory attendance at meetings. They spend seven hours a day telling and re-telling each other their stories, charting their descent into addiction. These meetings are the only “therapy”.

They are not structured, there is no psychologist or doctor involved, and no one is allowed to leave the room without permission. While listening to the testimony, the residents sit in shadow – the barred windows of the meeting room are covered with thick yellow corrugated plastic.

Freddie speaking to other internees

It is impossible to see the street from anywhere inside the centre.

“The vast majority, I would say 95% of the internees are here against their will,” says Carlos.

“Now he’s there, we have a bit more peace of mind – if he were in the street, anything could happen here in Guatemala”

Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz, brother of Victor, an internee

When desperate families call the centre asking for help with a substance-abusing loved one, he often accompanies the director to go and pick an addict up.

“It’s our role to bring them here, and that can mean using handcuffs like the police. Sometimes a family will say their son is very violent and has a knife or machete. In those cases we tie him up before bringing him here.”

Carlos believes this is legal in Guatemala. A ministerial accord of 2006 states that an addict can be interned when they are not in a fit state, but once they have recovered sufficiently, they must give consent. By all accounts, this rarely happens.

At the Ministry of Health, the regulation and co-ordination of the centres comes in the shape of just one man – Hector Hernandez has worked for the last 14 years to try to improve the centres and make them more humane. He has closed some, but he says forced detention has never been proven.

“Not even the attorney for the defence of human rights has been able to establish there are people detained against their will – there’s been no confirmation of any allegations made,” he says.

During the compulsory meetings at Rescatados del Abismo, Victor Ruiz reads his well-thumbed bible. An abuser of crack cocaine and alcohol, he has been here for three months. Victor believes only God and Jesus Christ will rescue him from addiction.

Victor Ruiz reading his bible

“I think I’ll be here for another five months, it all depends what my brothers decide,” he says.

Before he came to the centre, Victor was living on the streets. One day when the family could not find him anywhere, his older brother, Carlos Ruiz went to look for Victor at the morgue.

“I was looking at the photos of dead people to see if one of them was him. It’s really shocking. These things stay with you, it’s like you die a bit too,” he says.

After Victor was attacked in the street by someone with a machete, the family had him interned in Rescatados del Abismo.

“Now he’s there, we have a bit more peace of mind – if he were in the street, anything could happen here in Guatemala.”

The director of Rescatados del Abismo, Pablo Marroquin, has little patience with arguments about whether the regime he runs violates the rights of internees, especially when they are held involuntarily.

“What about families? What we do is give families peace, so their loved one doesn’t get himself into trouble. And so that he won’t kill them,” he counters.

Adverts for other rehab centresAdverts for other rehabilitation centres in Guatemala City, with the left one titled “Warriors of Christ”

There is no data about how successful the rehabilitation of addicts is in Guatemala. In 2012, the United Nations called on all member states to close compulsory drug detention and rehabilitation centres.

“There is no evidence that these centres represent a favourable or effective environment for the treatment of drug dependence,” declared the UN statement.

Many experts believe addicts can never be forced to change – they have to want to stop. And in Guatemala there are many Christian establishments that will only take addicts on a voluntary basis.

But Pablo Marroquin, clean now for 22 years, is a testament to his own approach to rehabilitation.

“I experienced God’s mercy – he rescued me. He brought me to a rehabilitation centre where I met myself, and I met God. And these days, I’m a happy man.”

Listen to Linda Pressly’s report from Guatemala City on Crossing Continents on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday at 11:00 BST – or find it soon

Last Calls on Methadone, Russia’s in Charge

A  fascinating insight into what can happen to the drug using community after a  government is deposed and a region splits borders. Igor Kuzmenko, a member of Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs, wrote this insightful article for sister organisation INPUD (International Network of People Who Use Drugs).

The recent events in Ukraine were watched by us all over the world. A president is deposed, and civil unrest spreads throughout the region. The Ukraine loses control of its western front in Crimea and by way of a rushed referendum supported by the people, has to hand the region back to Russia.  Military personal appear in the streets and laws change overnight. But what happens to the drug users? At INPUD, our members know very well that while the Ukraine recently started giving methadone and buprenorphine (mainly buprenorphine) to its users, Russia on the other hand, deems both drugs illegal and will not entertain OST (Opiate Substitution Therapy) for any reasons whatsoever. So, to the Crimean drug users who had once been lining up outside the methadone clinic, what was going to happen? Igor Kuzmenko was there and has written a series of blogs for us to give readers an insight into life after The Russian Referendum. 

Note: Igor Kuzmenko is an active member of INPUD’s sister organisation ENPUD, the Eurasian Network of People who Use Drugs / Click the link to find out about what is going on in the region (pages are translatable with Chrome) and if interested, if you can fill in their membership form.

 

RI.P. Crimean OST program, 2006  

By Igor Kuzmenko

Part 1 (of 4)   It just so happened that when that a life changing referendum was being held in March in the Crimea this year, the one which asked all Crimean citizens about whether our region should stay with the current government of Ukraine or return again to Russia, I was participating in the annual commission of Narcotic Drugs in Vienna.  This meant  I could only receive news from the Crimea via Skype or by phone. And the news was bad. For my own work as a social worker dispensing Opiate Substitution Treatment (OST),  it really was bad news; a sharp decrease in dosages was followed by panic among the patients and  low spirits of the medical personnel on the OST site. And then there was the strange armed people and large numbers of ‘unknown’ military equipment now appearing in the Crimea…

Igor Kuzmenko outside the Commission for Narcotic Drugs In Vienna this year. He would return to quite a different Crimea…

Igor Kuzmenko outside the Commission for Narcotic Drugs In Vienna this year. He would return to quite a different Crimea…

 

Almost nothing has changed in the Crimea on the surface. Except that instead of usual Ukrainian flags there are now Russian ones, and instead of traffic cops there are notorious “green little men” at the junctions. And at night you can sometimes hear the roar of military machines crossing the city.

 

“If, at the beginning buprenorphine was reduced by 2 mg a week, at the end of April and in May it was being reduced by 2 mg every other day. It was a very painful process.”

 

The OST site changed externally even less – the same people, the same fuss. But it was only externally. The fear started to grow. The doctors and nurses were afraid because legally, if the Crimea belongs to Russia and obeys Russian laws and they continue with methadone distribution on the site, they could be arrested for “distribution of drugs in especially large amounts performed in collusion by a group of people”. And you should agree, that’s no laughing matter.

OST clients were terrified because changes to prescriptions are always frightening. Their families were terrified too, because years of quiet living came to an end after the termination of OST.

Dosages decreased more and more. If, at the beginning buprenorphine was reduced by 2 mg a week, at the end of April and in May it was being reduced by 2 mg every other day. It was a very painful process. Of course, many patients tried to compensate for a lack drugs by using a large amount of barbiturates and those who could, also used street drugs. Thus the condition of patients constantly worsened: barbiturates helped to numb unpleasant feelings a little but not the pain, which was enfeebling you at the same time. I still remember people wandering about the site yard like ghosts, patients who had grown old in just a few days.

OST Patients walking away having consumed their last dose of methadone…

OST Patients walking away having consumed their last dose of methadone…

 

How OST Died

I want everyone to have a clear idea of how exactly OST died in the Crimea. There weren’t any documents issued by local authorities or from the Ukrainian or Russian side which could forbid, limit or in any other way have an effect on the situation with substitution therapy on the Crimean sites.

The reasons for the decrease in dosages were a limited quantity of pharmaceuticals in the Crimean warehouses and an impossibility to import methadone and buprenorphine from Ukraine to the Crimea.

It was difficult to import enough methadone and buprenorphine for a month into the Crimea even before the referendum because there wasn’t calm in Ukraine due to the Maiden* and, after March 16, all these difficulties were multiplied by the issues of state affiliation. We just weren’t allowed to import a new consignment of medicine. OST wasn’t banned in the Crimea, it was strangled.

 

“OST wasn’t banned in the Crimea, it was strangled”

 

OST wasn’t banned in the Crimea, it was strangled. Whose fault is this? It is difficult to tell. It seems to me that happiness of the patients wasn’t important for both sides. A patient on pills is a medical issue, and a suffering patient is political issue. We live in politically charged times and in my opinion, a political outcome was favorable to both parties: beneficial for Russia because methadone is not legal there, and Ukraine got its’ chance to once again confirm the inhumane actions of Russia.

 

In Simferopol there were rumours of drug users being severely beaten by ‘groups of sporty looking people’. However, Igor says; “There was the death of a patient in Simferopol that was for real during that period. He just didn’t have any energy left to live with a daily decreasing dose…”

 

In the meantime there were a lot of rumors spreading around. Rumors of absolutely fanatical methods of counter-drug operations by FDCS,  (The Federal Drug Control Service of the Russian Federation) such as shooting out the wheels of suspected cars. Rumors about groups of young sporty looking people who had recently appeared in Simferopol to attack drug addicts and beat them almost to death in places where it is possible to buy drugs. Rumors about  a shipload of heroin delivered to the Crimea from Russia. But there wasn’t any real confirmation of these rumors either.

But there was the death of a patient in Simferopol that was for real during that period. He just didn’t have any energy left to live with daily decreasing dose…. The fear of the future was for real too. And at the same time, there were high hopes. At that time very few people believed that OST, which everyone had gotten used to and without which nobody could imagine one’s life, would be banned and services closed all of the sudden.

The hope helps us to live.

Igor Kuzmenko

* Maiden: The name of the city Square in Kiev. It has been the site of many important protests including The Orange Revolution but for many months in 2014 it became the place where Euro-centric activists protested, camping out and fighting back against authorities. After bloody battles, people power reigned and the Ukrainian president fled into Russia. The protest gained the name The EuroMaiden Revolution.

 

RI.P. Crimean OST program, 2006

Part 2         Igor Kuzmenko

Around April, during the period of intensive decreases in methadone and buprenorphine doses, one of the patients approached me in the OST site in Simferopol. He was an adult man, slightly over 50 years old. He had multiple diagnoses, including  active form of tuberculosis (before the referendum he was admitted to the tuberculosis dispensary where he could get methadone, but after the referendum this opportunity didn’t exist anymore and he had to go the remaining OST site to get his methadone among healthy patients). He also suffered from Hepatitis C and HIV. He is an artist and looks like a true artist – he wears a raincoat and a long scarf. It was notable that he was extremely worried. Nervously taking a puff, he said:

“Igor, if sometimes you need my help, you can count on me. I have only one wish right now – to douse myself in gasoline and set myself on fire. If only it could do any good!”

Many of us didn’t want to sit back and do nothing. We organized a group. We didn’t set a task to change the political reality, obviously we were unable to do it, and we simply wanted to draw as much attention as possible to the stopping of the importation of OST medicine to the Crimea. So three of us paid a visit to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine, in Kiev.

 

The Opiate Substitution Programme In Simferopol closes its doors for the forseeable future…

The Opiate Substitution Programme In Simferopol closes its doors for the forseeable future…

 

Besides us, inhabitants of the Crimea, there was a large number of local activists and representatives of The Alliance Ukraine (an HIV/AIDS organisation) participating in a protest action. Unfortunately, we couldn’t meet the minister, but some officials from the civil service on HIV issues found a little bit of time for us.

…It became absolutely clear to me that there will be no importation of OST medicines to the Crimea at all.”

I must admit that after this meeting in the Ministry of Health, it became absolutely clear to me that there will be no importation of OST medicines to the Crimea at all. Nobody was interested in that..

 

No Discontent Allowed

 

Meanwhile in Simferopol in the Crimea, our people tried to make a protest action near the headquarters of the Crimean government. And there we ran into surprise: all of us had gotten used to our liberal Ukrainian system regarding protest actions and meetings. It was rather simple to inform the city authorities of the time and place of a meeting in Ukraine. But as it became clear, in Russia, (and now in Crimea)  it is impossible for more than two people to gather together to show any discontent. Therefore we had to drop any idea of setting a protest action in the center of Simferopol.

 

Almost nothing changed in Crimea on the surface…(pic: Sevestapol)

Almost nothing changed in Crimea on the surface…(pic: Sevestapol)

 

Parental support is also very effective in context of raising the profile of OST, not least for the reason that parents are not drug-dependent and the stigmatizing that is usual in such cases, doesn’t apply to them. Unfortunately however, we also failed to attract a lot of parents to our movement.

I have to admit that the OST patient community couldn’t find complete consensus either. Some of us considered the proximity of Russia as being a benefit, others rejoiced at the sudden opportunity to quit methadone, and someone didn’t care at all. Some patients even participated in the referendum and the self-defense groups (groups which promoted pro-Russian forces in the Crimea). Nevertheless the majority of us wanted the same: at the maximum – the resumption of Opiate Substitution Treatment, and at the minimum – importation of a monthly stock of methadone and buprenorphine.

I am very grateful to the medical personnel of OST sites in the Crimea. Not their chiefs but the ordinary physicians and nurses. All of them are courageous people. Just think of it: according to Russian laws every day they went to work to give out methadone to the patients, they were making criminal acts. Acts that can be characterized as “distribution of drugs in especially large amounts performed in collusion by a group of people“. It was a very courageous especially as all of them without exception knew perfectly well how it could turn out for them.

And there were some things and some people to be afraid of. Both the administration and numerous “guests” put unbearable pressure on them. But I will tell you about that and many other things next time…

Stay tuned for part 3 and 4 in Igor Kuzmenko’s personal story of his community after Crimea becomes Russian again, first posted at INPUD’s International Diaries or read it all in Russian at ENPUD

Feeling a bit defeated?? Find yourself slowly crushed by the weight of a loved one’s ignorant viewpoints on your drug use?

Well Ditch it Brothers and Sisters!

Redaktionens bild

The world-class Swedish Drug Users Union

Last year, just like every year on the 1st of November, that very special day in the drug users own calendar comes alive! Only last year, guess who should write one of the most moving, powerful and courageous testimonies of our times – but the Swedish Drug Users Union!

This readers, is no great shock as this world-class union consisting of 13 separate chapters including Stockholm, Malmo etc is consistently putting out some of the most innovative and high quality peer resources available, certainly within Europe, and is a 1st class example of just what your user group can do both inside and outside government. Remember, Sweden may appear liberal but it is in fact very conservative towards drug users and just demanding a globally approved and evidenced based needle exchange for the inner city, has taken years and years of struggle by the union (so they have opened it themselves sans local permission in order to save lives. Now that’s action!).

Along with the impressive journey travelled over (at least) the last decade pushed onwards by some of their leading Union members (a big shout out to the brilliant founder Berne and his team at the lead union of Sweden, and Kikki and her close team running the highly visible and hardworking Stockholm branch.

But getting to the fabulous point – I discovered on the Swedish Users Union Website, a statement to really mark and celebrate OUR DAY – the 1st of November every year;

It is, dear readers, a day to proclaim and reclaim the precious rights to our own bodies and what goes in them, our independence regarding our alternative lifestyle choices, to relish and delight in our chemical search for enlightenment; and to have fun, be loud and proud and educate the consistently new ignorant people who read the tabloids and watch the chat shows to understand their news..

Reader’z, I implore you to read out and even copy a version of this truly excellent statement of our rights and our scapegoated position in English, be polite and ask SDDU if you wish to reprint any of it (credited of course) on your groups website and goddammit, pin it up in your local methadone clinic, prison or rehab on 1st November!

 

Big thank you to Theo Van Dam and the Netherland’s LSD for starting our special global day.

INPUD Statement for International Drug Users’

Day, 1st November 2013

AvRedaktionen (SBFRiks) den 02 nov 2013 23:43 | 0kommentarer

The international drug users’ movement welcomes the introduction over recent years of a human rights discourse into discussions about drug law reform, harm reduction and public health, and the clear delineation of the systemic relations between global punitive prohibition and the grotesque violations of the rights of people who use drugs.

However, on this, International Drug Users’ Day, the International Network of People who Use Drugs wants to push this discourse one step further and affirm the positive right of people to use the drugs of their choice without the undue interference of police, judicial, and medical authorities. This right is implied most clearly by those to privacy, bodily integrity, and the right not to be discriminated against.

For too long, human rights discourse has largely ignored this thorny issue, and has focused to great effect on the egregious human rights violations rained down upon people simply on the basis that they choose to use drugs whose usage is deemed unacceptable subsequent to the passage of the three global conventions that together comprise global prohibition.

The range of such abuses is vast, systemic and grotesque, and includes abrogations of the right to vote, of the right to liberty, to privacy, to physical and mental integrity, to freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, to freedom from involuntary medical procedures, to be free from discrimination, and to the highest attainable standard of health. Repressive drug laws also jeopardise the right to safety by denying people access to drugs of known quality, quantity, and purity, thus exposing us to the risk of overdose, poisoning and infection, as well as to sterile means of administering injectable drugs.

These systemic rights abuses driven by a globally repressive legal environment of varying degrees of viciousness has included torture, forced treatment, police shakedowns and violence, arbitrary mass incarceration and detention, the denial of access to medical services (most notably denial of the right to access treatment for HCV and HIV), and the denial of access to harm reduction services. Harsh drug laws jeopardise the right to family life by denying drug using parents access to their children, and in some countries people, especially women, known to be users of illegal drugs have been forcefully sterilised. These violations driven by a combination of puritanical moralism, racism, sexism, and the biopolitical imperative of governments to exert control over, and discipline, the bodies of their citizens, has created a world in which people who use, and in particular who inject, drugs are massively, disproportionately affected by blood borne viruses, most notably HIV and HCV. These violations are not glitches in the system of drug control, nor the actions of a few ‘rogue’ enforcement agents, rather they are constitutive of, and directly entailed by, prohibition.

People who use currently illegal drugs have been labelled immoral, criminal, and sick, often a combination of all three at the same time. We have been moralised over, criminalised and pathologised. On this International Drug Users’ Day, we say enough. On this International Drug Users’ Day we assert the right to bodily integrity, and to privacy, we reclaim control over our bodies and minds and assert the right of consenting adults to use whatever drugs they choose, whether it be for pleasure, to self-medicate, to enhance performance, to alter consciousness  or to provide some succour and relief from hard lives, we insist that as adults that right is ours. We defend the right of adults to use their drugs of choice in their homes without causing harm or nuisance to others, and to carry them in public without fear of police harassment, abuse and intimidation.

The use of consciousness altering drugs is an integral part of the human experience, common to all cultures throughout history, as such drug use is neither bad, mad, nor sick, it should not, and need not, be a crime. The use of currently illegal drugs is not a sign of moral depravity, a character fault, a marker of criminal tendencies, or of pathology, it is no more and no less than one aspect of what it is to be human, a part of the diversity of human experience. Doug Husak, one of the few academics to have seriously looked at this issue concludes in his book Drugs and Rights that ” the arguments in favour of believing that adults have a moral right to use drugs recreationally are more persuasive than the arguments on the other side” he continues that those of us who reject the war on drugs, which is in reality a war on people who use drugs, “should be described as endorsing a pro-choice position on recreational drug use”.

To assert and defend this implied right to use drugs INPUD will be launching a ‘Charter of the Rights of People who Use Drugs’ laying out the basic rights to which we, like all other members of the human family are entitled. This charter will be prefaced by a detailed exposition of the multiple areas of life in which the rights of people who use drugs are violated, simply on the basis of what drugs we choose to use.

Drug use = my choice!

Abstinence = your choice.

Prohibition = no choice!

– – – – –

More information: Protecting rights to ensure health: International Drug Users Day 2013.

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Text uppdaterad: 2013-11-03 21:58
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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!

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).

 

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.

More:

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)

Breaking Convention: MDMA Debate – Its Place in Medicine, Society and Politics

MDMA for PTSD

MDMA for psychotherapy? Listen to the latest views

An excellent video which captures, for the first time in the UK, a conference convened on MDMA looking at the research and the debate around it being used as a drug for psychotherapy etc. This hour long video brings together some really knowledgeable speakers who each present for 5-10 minutes, and cover a lot of interesting info about the various studies undertaken with MDMA so far. There are various aspects of the debate highlighted here by the different speakers, a specific overriding issue for concern however is about how the risks of MDMA have been overplayed -indeed much of it is plain incorrect. Until recently, there was only 1 paper on the therapeutic benefits of MDMA and thousands about the risks. Yet all of these papers have assessed risks in terms of whether MDMA was safe to use in a theraputic setting,  based on research taken from street ecstasy used in a club setting, which they claim (and i agree also!) is vastly different to pharmaceutical MDMA used in a theraputic settings. For years researchers were unable to get funding for therapeutic based research of MDMA as it was consistently thwarted by the previous realms of more negative research on ecstasy which looked exclusively at street or black-market ecstasy (which may not have MDMA in it at all!), in hot, crowded athletic club settings -a million miles away from sterile MDMA in therapeutic settings. Rick Doblin took this even further and said he was deeply concerned about the egotism and careerism involved in much research publications etc, the sheer determinism to be published (and not challenged) all at the cost of the truth, another nail in the coffin of rational truthful drug research..Well worth listening to some of the worlds foremost researchers on MDMA, who happily seem to have also used it! Now thats the kind of researcher we like! Respect! thankks to MAPS for this (see more of their fascinating stuff -link on right hand side).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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