Employing People Who Use Drugs

And why it is a good idea!

Introducing a Good practice guide for employing people who use drugs .

A truly indispensable toolkit.
PWUD (People Who Use Drugs) have insights and expertise that can help inform the planning, delivery, monitoring and review of harm reduction and many other drug related services. When we involve PWUD in the design and delivery of services for our community, the overall work becomes more relevant, targeted and accessible. Working in partnership with PWUD helps services to reach and connect with other PWUD more effectively, and importantly, to understand and meet their needs.

A really powerful way of involving PWUD is to employ them as staff.


Employing PWUD sends out a clear message that they are valued partners and are welcome at all levels of service delivery. It also has a very practical set of benefits, helping services to better understand the needs and lived experience of PWUD. PWUD have the right to be employed. Policies that routinely exclude PWUD from the workplace are discriminatory.
This guide has been carefully and thoughtfully written and involved the community of people who use drugs in its design and execution.  It provides really excellent information in the form of a practical toolkit that services themselves can and should use when it comes to considering the employment of PWUD’s in services.

It is true, there are unique issues that PWUDs may bring to the workplace if / when employed. However, the really interesting insights,  ideas, and approaches a service will experience from engaging PWUDs is sure to make the extra effort of learning how to structure the work environment, all the more worthwhile.

This guide also has really well thought out and evidenced based information for ensuring that PWUDs who are engaged as volunteers or mentors in any service, are able to deliver their very best, and are properly supported and compensated by the service they work hard for.

It is essential that people who are still actively using drugs, and those who are relatively stable in treatment  -are recognised as able to make a valuable contribution to the development of our communities drug and alcohol services! It is a field that should not be exclusively for people ‘in recovery’, and as this guide will show, there are many valid reasons why the entire community of people who use drugs all have valuable roles to play in giving us better quality drug and alcohol services.

Here are just some of the topics discussed in this excellent guide. Make sure every drug service is aware of its existence.

2.2. When drug use is a problem (and when it is not)
2.4. Employing ex-drug users and people in recovery
2.4.1. Employing people who are engaged in OST and drug treatment
2.4.2. Employing people who are active drug users
2.4.3. Employing people who are active stimulant users
2.5. The value of staff who use drugs

4.2. Problem drug use and work
4.3. Imposing personal models and philosophies of drug use
4.5. Moving from being a peer to working in a harm reduction organisation
4.6. Inappropriate relationships with clients
4.7. Supplying, or soliciting the supply of, illicit drugs
4.8. When peer support groups become unhealthy
4.9. Managing staff with health conditions that impact on performance
4.10. Managing a death in the workforce or among the client group

Appendix 3: Risk assessment circle
Appendix 5: Examples of job advertisements for staff who use drugs and peer outreach workers
Appendix 6: Model questions for peer interviewers
Appendix 7: Conducting a review meeting
Appendix 8: Developing a self-control programme
Appendix 9: Checklist for managing staff with problem drug use at work
Appendix 10: Training exercises from the Bangkok workshop
Appendix 11: Normal and complex grief reactions

Save yourself a copy and spread it around the staff in the drug services you know -you never know -you might get a job there one day!

NOTE: This guide came out at the end of 2016 and I have written about it before however it was hidden on our website so I thought it should be pulled out again and given a front page showing. I hope you will agree it will be a useful guide for some years to come.

Good Practice Guide for Employing People who Use Drugs

Good practice guide for employing people who use drugs  – An indispensable toolkit (click link)

PWUD (People Who Use Drugs) have insights and expertise that can help inform the planning, delivery and review of harm reduction and HIV services. When we involve PWUD in the design and delivery of services, our work becomes more relevant, targeted and accessible. Working in partnership with PWUD helps our services to reach and connect with other PWUD more effectively, and to understand and meet their needs. A really powerful way of involving PWUD is to employ them as staff.

Employing PWUD sends out a clear message that they are valued partners and are welcome at all levels of service delivery. It also has a very practical set of benefits, helping services to better understand the needs and lived experience of PWUD. PWUD have the right to be employed. Policies that routinely exclude PWUD from the workplace are discriminatory.

When drug use is a problem (and when it is not)

Drug use is complex, and debate on the rights and wrongs of it can become easily polarised. In this context, the medical (disease) model of drug use tends to dominate. This emphasises the problems of dependence as an inevitable consequence of using heroin and other drugs. As a result, the response to drug use is often described as a treatment or cure for a medical illness. The medical model also dominates many 12-step programmes, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA). It also influences the way many health professionals, academics, politicians and members of the public understand drug use. They share a belief that PWUD quickly lose the ability to control their drug use, and make conscious, autonomous or rational decisions about it. However, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) acknowledged in the World drug report 2014 that only 10% of PWUD will experience problems arising from their drug use.

This implies that many people’s experience of drug use can be non-problematic and often pleasurable. Similarly, some of our staff will have experiences with drugs that are non-problematic and recreational. Although in the alcohol field the concept of controlled drinking is now widely accepted, for many years the possibility of non-dependent and controlled heroin use has been largely ignored, despite evidence that such patterns exist.

This research demonstrates that some people are able to use heroin in a non-dependent or controlled manner. Studies of people using cocaine have also shown well-established patterns and strategies for self-control. These studies highlight the importance of the social context in which drugs are used and its impact on an individual’s experience of drugs and their effects.

We learn from these studies about the importance of context when trying to understand drug use patterns, and question the value of framing drug use as an individual failing or illness. (text taken from the guide itself. To receive a copy of the guide click the link at the top of this page)

Also read:

International HIV/AIDS Alliance (2010), Good Practice Guide. HIV and drug use: community responses to injecting drug use and HIV. Available at: www.aidsalliance.org/assets/000/000/383/454-G ood-practice-guide-HIV-and-druguse_original.pdf?1405520 726

This guide has been developed by the International HIV/AIDS Alliance (the Alliance) as part of the CAHR project, supported by the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The International HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine (Alliance Ukraine) led this work, supported by the programme “Building a sustainable system of comprehensive services on HIV prevention, treatment, care and support for MARPs and PLWH in Ukraine”, funded by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund).


The State We’re In; Heroin Prescribing in the UK

Here is the unedited version of an article I wrote for the Drug Fields’ trade magazine, DDN (Drink and Drug News), which was published yesterday. The link to DDN website is here, and they publish both free online versions and hard copy mail-outs. It is an excellent way of keeping bang up to date with what is happening in the UK drug treatment system. Here is the link to the article as appeared and the issue of the DDN magazine.

Heroin is provided on prescription in what was known as 'The British System'

Heroin is still (rarely) provided on prescription in what was known as ‘The British System’


The average diamorphine prescription: A long way from street smack.

The average diamorphine prescription: A long way from street smack.










The State We’re In

‘The game of history is usually played by the best and the worst over the heads

of the majority in the middle.’ – Eric Hoffer

“I feel like they are waiting for the last handful of us to die off and that will be the end of heroin prescribing in Britain, as we know it”, I said miserably.

Gary turned and looked at me seriously through his spectacles, “If we don’t try and do something now there will be no diamorphine prescribing left anywhere in the UK”.

Gary Sutton (head of the Drug Team at Release)  tapped away on the computer in front of me, putting the last few lines on a letter to yet another treatment service who had been forcibly extracting a long term client off his diamorphine ampoules and onto an oral medication. It was proving to be a painful and destructive decision for the client, who was experiencing a new daily torment as his once stable life began to unravel around him.

The drug team and its helpline (known affectionately as ‘Narco’), all part of the UK charity Release, receives phone calls from people in drug treatment from all over UK. By doing so it serves as the proverbial stethoscope clamped to the arrhythmic heart of our nation’s drug politik and bears a chronological witness to the fallout from Number 10 affecting the individual, on the street and in treatment. In other words we witness the consequences of policy and treatment decisions, and try and support or advocate for the caller.


“...But as winter draws the shades on yet another year in

the drugs field, we find we are bearing witness to a tragedy,  

one of small proportions but with huge implications…”


But as winter draws the shades on yet another year in the drugs field, we find we are bearing witness to a tragedy, one of small proportions but with huge implications. It involves the last vestiges of the British System of drug treatment, the ‘jewel in its crown’ – heroin prescribing – and the decline of the NHS, under assault from a mercilessly competitive tendering process and the crude procurement that is defining its replacement. Is that where we are really heading?

It may be true to say that to try and define the old ‘British System’ is to trap its wings under a microscope and allow for a possibly contentious dissection; the late ‘Bing’ Spear, formerly Chief Inspector of the Home Office Drugs Branch, might be the first in line by reminding us that the implications of “’system’ and ‘programme’ suggests a coordination, order and an element of (state) planning and direction, all totally alien to the fundamental ethos of the British approach”. His point being that the essence of the ‘British System’ was that it “allows the individual doctor total clinical freedom to decide how to treat an addict patient”.

John Strang and Michael Gossop, in their thoroughly researched double volume book on ‘Heroin Addiction and the British System’, stated in the epilogue of volume 2, that ‘Amongst the (probably unintended) benefits of [this] approach may be the avoidance of the pursuit of extreme solutions and hence an ability to tolerate imperfection, alongside a greater freedom, and hence a particular capacity for evolution.’


“…‘Amongst the (probably unintended) benefits of [this] approach

may be the avoidance of the pursuit of extreme solutions

and hence an ability to tolerate imperfection, alongside a greater freedom,

and hence a particular capacity for evolution.’…Strang/Gossop..”


The average diamorphine prescription: A long way from street smack.

The average diamorphine prescription: A long way from street smack.

The British ‘Approach’ (arguably are more appropriate phrase) had once allowed for a level of evolution, of experimentation and pharmaceutical flexibility; three characteristics that are glaringly missing from front line drug treatment today. Although we have no room to discuss clinical guidance here, it is often the case that when presenting services with complex individual cases at Release, we are rebuffed by the response ‘it’s not in the guidelines’, ‘it’s not licensed’, or even, as if drug workers are loyal party backbenchers, ’it’s not government policy’!

Hindsight is a gift, and although many of us could while away the hours pontificating about just how and why it all went so publicly wrong for our ‘unhindered prescribers’ back in the day (think Drs Petro, (Lady) Frankau, and a handful of others), that would be to miss the point. The reality is, once we pick up and examine the pieces of the last 100 years, there are shining areas of light in our British Approach. Marked by both a simple humanity and a brilliant audacity, it permitted a private and dignified discussion between both doctor and patient to find the drug that created the preconditions for the ‘patient’ (today the ‘client’) to find the necessary balance in life.

Are we really back to the days of having to ask to be treated as an individual? Policy in treatment is today interfering to such an extent that the formulation that the patient feels works best for them (physeptone tablets, heroin, morphine, oxycodone, DF118’s etc.) may no longer fit into today’s homogenous and fixated theme of methadone or buprenorphine, one part of a backwards step.

Although the days of unhindered diamorphine prescribing are almost gone, thankfully, there is still a small group of well informed and supportive doctors, some of whom hold the rarefied Home Office licence to prescribe diamorphine (to people who are opiate dependent.) Regrettably,  there appear to be a good number of licensees who don’t use their license to treat opiate users at all possibly having never to have had the good fortune to encounter a suitably needy client in their catchment area.  Is it possible that they remain content to absorb the kudos and ‘super specialist status’ that the licence conveys without doing any of the work?


Prohibition, fear

“…Prohibition, politics and the soundbite media means we are doomed to discuss [heroin prescribing] under the umbrella of ‘treating the most intractable…”

 Fear and public ignorance has forced us to collapse any new diamorphine prescribing into a tight wad of supervision, medicalisation and regulation while prohibition, politics and the soundbite media has meant that we have been doomed to discuss this subject under the umbrella of ‘treating the most intractable, the most damaged, the treatment failures, the failures of treatment’.

Why must a treatment that has proven to be the optimum for so many, be left until people have been forced to suffer through a series of personal disasters and treatment failures? Did this narrative help to diminish the intervention? One of the benefits of the ‘old style’ of heroin prescribing has been the ability to take it home and use it like one might use insulin, which permits a level of independence central to any functioning life of work and leisure.  This small although hugely significant freedom can still fit comfortably as part of a transitional route for people progressing through more heavily supervised heroin programmes towards less supervision and as such needs to be retained, and even embraced.

The last few dozen people left on take home diamorphine prescriptions in the UK today, seem to be stable, functioning, often working people who no longer have so much as a ‘drug problem’ but a manageable drug dependence. This last group of diamorphine clients are remnants of the old system with, it appears, no new people taking their places once they leave. Today these are some of the very people who are now ringing the Release helpline to try and save their prescriptions altogether. They are frightened, most of them are in their fifties and having qualified for diamorphine many years ago because ‘nothing else worked’, what now are they to do?


In Switzerland, diamorphine prescribing has been so successful; they even have two programmes in prisons. (Now there is a ‘Sun’ headline, if I’ve ever seen one!). Clients in their community programmes pay around 45 Euros (£32) a month for their ‘scripts, something most British heroin users/OST clients would probably agree to in an instant if it meant diamorphine was offered.

In Britain, diamorphine prescribing has been ensconced in a political and clinical debate about the expense and fears of an imaginary tsunami of diversion. Yet what of today’s financial wastage? We have ways to deal with diversion, yet poor and frequent commissioning has a number of serious consequences, including a lack of continuity of care, a slide back to postcode variance, and not least, cost. An exercise to quantify the costs of tendering services over 10 years ago came up with a figure of £300,000 as the sum expended by all bidders and the commissioner, per tender. Money that could be better spent, surely?

A few weeks ago the LSE put on a mini-symposium on diamorphine with a panel of international clinicians, academics and research experts. Everyone present agreed that prescribing diamorphine, albeit in a very controlled supervised manner, had tremendous merit. Taking the idea from the success in Britain (e.g. Dr John Marks), today we see a method that has evolved across Europe; the Swiss, the Dutch, the Germans and the Danes, amongst others, are all doing it, treating thousands of clients, with great results. So it was more than frustrating to hear that our own diamorphine clinical trials had been closed this year with no plans to re-start them


“…Diamorphine should not end up marginalised and discarded because a

controversial new ‘system’ finds it far harder to tolerate than the patients

who receive it do…”


Diamorphine should not end up marginalised and discarded because a controversial new ‘system’ finds it far harder to tolerate than the patients who receive it do. The benefit is proven. It’s not a choice between maintenance and abstinence, addiction is not reductive to either/or and as treatment is neither just a science nor an art, and our clinicians should not be restricted to methadone or Subutex, or our clients subjected to a binary ‘take it or leave it’ choice in services.

by Erin O’Mara with massive thanks to Release and its intrepid Drug Team: published in Dec 2015 issue of Drink and Drug News

World -Take Note! The story of one country unafraid to take risks to better the lives of its citizens-despite overwhelming opposition and ridicule. So who’s laughing now?



Switzerland, courageous, progressive, humane – junkies around the world thank you!

Dudes and Dudettes, around the globe; As I was just about to write an article for the British press on the demise of the much respected ‘British System’ and the diminishing role of the prescribing of legal, pharmaceutical heroin to opiate-dependent people, I came across this article. Published just last year it gives a brief but interesting look at Switzerland’s incredible journey as an innovator and leader in the field of drug treatment. I hope you may find this as interesting as I have.

Many of us will know something of the Swiss Story, but it is never more pertinent than today, to renew these very important discussions about heroin prescribing, standing up loud and proud and  showing off the very real successes this approach has decades on, across Europe today. We must take a leaf out of Swiss’s History book and, while fanning the flames of the decriminalization and regulation discourse, we can burn a clear and wide road ahead, devoid of the forest and the trees – out of our dangerously out of control illicit drugs market, and hopefully towards sowing some damn busting seeds at UNGASS 2016, in New York City. Once home to the archetypal junkie!!

Switzerland’s fascinating journey from the experimental Needle Park to the development of the most innovative, effective and publicly supported heroin prescribing clinics now available across the country and even in (2) prisons.

Friends, it is time we celebrated and thanked our Swiss comrades in arms -for their bravery in going it alone for so many years; their refusal to condemn junkies to the gutters and prisons of society, for standing so far out in the crowd in the search for humane and pragmatic solutions to the fallout from prohibition, and all at a time when all around was calling for blood; incarceration, isolation and discrimination.

A street heroin epidemic that was to sweep through Europe and the rest of the world during the 70’s and 80’s, while nations governments used tactics and policies that were brutal at worst -and misguided at best – psychiatrists and medical professionals began years of postulating and aggrandising their professions and their careers.



Article by By Gabriele Ochsenbein

Article reprinted as it appeared on the online newspaper SWISSINFO.CH

At the beginning of the 1990s, pictures of the open drug scene at the so-called “Needle Park” in Zürich went around the world, leading to the introduction of legal heroin prescribing. Strongly criticized at first, it has since been hailed as an example.

The old Needle Park in Zurich, Switzerland; the experiment that led the way to one of the world's most successful drug policies -heroin prescribing.

The old Needle Park in Zurich, Switzerland; the experiment that paved the way towards one of the world’s most successful drug policies -heroin prescribing. Click the image to see more pictures of the era in Needle Park.

Doctor André Seidenberg, who has treated 3,500 patients suffering from addictions in his career, was one of the first to provide emergency help in Needle Park and to call for clean syringes to be given out to addicts. Police and the justice authorities tried to deal with the problem with repressive measures that failed to work. The crackdown even encouraged drug addiction and the drug trade, Seidenberg claims.

swissinfo.ch: Twenty years ago Switzerland became the first country to prescribe heroin to therapy-resistant addicts. Has it been a success story?

André Seidenberg: Yes, although you have to bear in mind that the heroin programme has been marginal and to my knowledge never reached more than 5% of the affected people. It is a kind of show project, a prestige project.

It is however a success because in Switzerland, the majority of people dependent on opioids are in treatment, mostly with methadone, and a small proportion, particularly those who respond poorly to therapy, with heroin. It would be preferable if the proportion of addicts in treatment could be increased. I wish we could have gone further with the medicalisation and legalisation of the market.

Needle Park in Zurich today -heroin use is very clearly on the decline

Needle Park in Zurich today,  heroin use is very clearly on the decline

swissinfo.ch: Would that have had an effect on the black market?

A.S.: Of course. The black market is a market that is encouraged by repressive measures and ultimately produces poor products that are harmful to people. I wish we could have a less hypocritical approach to drugs.

swissinfo.ch: Then you are in favour of a general legalisation of drugs?

A.S.: I am in favour of better market control. It is an international problem, because we still have a very active drug wars in many regions.

Appropriate control of the drug market is not a trivial matter either. One cannot for example just legalise cocaine and think that all problems will be swept away. It would have to be introduced very carefully.

swissinfo.ch: How is life different for a person who doesn’t have to seek out heroin in the back streets anymore but receives it regularly as a medicine?

A.S.: A person who receives their fix twice a day is in psychologically better condition, is more stable in every way. Of course there are side effects and even lasting impairments. Those who take this substance daily suffer from decreased libido, sleep problems or a limited capacity to experience emotional states in between euphoria and sadness.

People who take part in a heroin programme are also freed from the necessity to finance their existence through illegal activities. Delinquency, prostitution and social deviance of all kinds have decreased.

swissinfo.ch: So they can lead a normal life?

A.S.: The possibility of procuring drugs in this [legal] way makes a big difference, because in illegally procured drugs tend to be consumed in more dangerous ways. Most addicts are not in a position to always inject themselves carefully, which can lead to infections and infectious diseases. Overdoses also happen much more easily with drugs bought on the street.

When we are able to look after people medically, these risks are avoided to a larger extent. With controlled distribution people are able to lead a mostly normal life, although there are more people getting disability benefit among those taking part in the heroin programme, compared to the methadone programme.

swissinfo.ch: So from a medical point of view the focus is on limiting harm and stability rather than abstinence?

A.S.: The priority for doctors is to avoid serious harm to the body and death. Healing the soul comes, in medical terms, just after the body.

swissinfo.ch: Should abstinence not be the goal of a state drugs policy?

A.S.: That was the goal of politicians and society, and many doctors still nurture this illusion. But it’s a very dangerous strategy. Heroin addiction is a chronic illness. Only a small, shrinking minority of opioid addicts will become abstinent long-term. And most of them suffer during their abstinence.

With heroin – as opposed to alcohol – abstinence doesn’t improve well-being and health. The death rate is three to four times higher for abstinent patients, compared to those prescribed heroin or methadone. Repeated attempts to come off the drugs can trigger psychological difficulties, that can then lead to self-harm.

swissinfo.ch: Is heroin still an issue today?

A.S.: Thankfully we rarely see young people taking up heroin. Consumption has fallen massively. One per cent of those born in 1968, the Needle Park generation, became addicted and many of them died because of their addiction or are largely still dependent.

The average age of a heroin addict in Switzerland is now around 40. If we hadn’t stopped this development at the beginning of the 1990s, young people born in the following years would have been affected to the same extent. There are societies, for example the countries of the former Soviet Union or Iran, where a significant percentage of the population is dependent on opioids.

swissinfo.ch: You tried out various drugs, including heroin. Why didn’t you become addicted?

A.S.: Maybe I was just lucky. When I was young I tried out almost all kinds of drugs. I was able to satisfy my curiosity and maybe also learnt certain things that could be useful for my patients. I also got to know the danger of drugs: I lost many friends, even before my medical studies began.

swissinfo.ch: Do you have to have taken drugs to be a good drugs doctor?

A.S.: No, I would not recommend that. When dealing with problems that have to do with the psyche, it is definitely helpful to have an open mind. But you don’t have to try out everything for that, because that could be harmful and dangerous.
(Translated from German by Clare O’Dea), swissinfo.ch

Swiss drugs policy -A Timeline

  • Since 1991 Switzerland has implemented the so-called four pillar policy of prevention, therapy, damage limitation and repression.
  • This pragmatic policy was developed largely in response to the extreme drug-related misery in Zurich in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The controlled prescription of heroin was first introduced in 1994.
  • In 1997, the Zurich Institute for Addiction Research came to the conclusion that the pilot project should be continued because the health and living situation of the patients had improved. There had also been a reduction in crime.
  • In 1997 the people’s initiative ‘Youth without Drugs‘, which called for a restrictive drugs policy, was rejected by 70% of voters.
  • In 1998 74% of voters rejected the ‘Dro-Leg’ initiative for the legalisation of drugs.
  • In 2008 68% of voters accepted revised drugs legislation. Since then controlled heroin distribution has been anchored in law.
  • The new law came into force in 2010.

Further reading; (docs come in German, French, Italian and English

Federal Office of Public Health; Click here for survey loads of interesting information on results of all the Swiss studies going back over a decade

The Challenge of addiction The basics of a sustainable approach for drugs policy in Switzerland

Interesting Doc on how the Needle Park experiment became the road into heroin on prescription -and discusses how the first studies were set up and the results

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!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Global Network of Sex Work Projects

launches a global consensus

against violence

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

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

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

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


Fight Back on Benefits

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

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon

Mental Health Awareness Ribbon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Women biggest victims in coalition’s welfare blitz


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

The Journey to Freemarket Drugs, via Silk Road?

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

The Definitive History of Silk Road

By Patrick Howell O’Neill on October 11, 2013

The Silk Road Homepage after the DEA came knocking

The Silk Road Homepage after the DEA came knocking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of Silk Roads substances...

Some of Silk Roads substances…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dread Pirate Roberts

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

But not everyone loved Dread Pirate Roberts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arrest of Ross Ulbricht

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

Silk Road Homepage

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


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

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

Benefits: Essential information for ESA claims, assessments and appeals

Here is some exceptional information that will be very useful for British people who are on benefits and have been undergoing some very concerning pressure and irresponsible assessing from the governments new Benefits ‘bulldog’ ATOS, in the rush to get millions off benefits and into work. Sure we agree that work is good for most people, giving one a sense of achievement, usefulness, purpose and contribution to their communities -and of course to help lift people out of poverty (well that’s the idea).

However, there are many thousands of people who have been railroaded and unfairly treated who have dire health and mental health issues, who are suffering intensely, even to the point of committing suicide, such is the stress (there are agencies counting the numbers of these related and growing death stats). Here is some essential information from a terrific group of people who have provided us here with a very succinct account of appeal points, what to look out for, where your rights lie etc. If you or someone you know are undergoing a benefit review and are terrified of what might happen to you, I urge you to have a read of this. The blog it has come from can be found here http://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2013/04/21/1560/ and I urge you to have a look at it, if only for the 47 comments posted after the article (we have reprinted it fully on this website -partly here on the blog but again fully under Benefits, in our A-Z of Health.


There are three essential ideas to keep in mind when claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) because of the nature of the ESA50 form, and the fact that Atos are seeking to deny benefits, and NOT assess disability: this will not be a fair investigation of your health issues.

This information needs to be shared widely so people are made aware of them, and can use them when claiming ESA or appealing.

These very helpful ideas are:

  •  Reliably, repeatedly and safely

  •  Exceptional circumstances – Regulations 25 and 31, 29 and 35

  •  Atos assessments and pitfalls – how they try to deceive you

1. Reliably, repeatedly and safely. 

‘Lord’ Fraud made this statement in the House of Lords:

“It must be possible for all the descriptors to be completed reliably, repeatedly and safely, otherwise the individual is considered unable to complete the activity.”

You might be able to go up three steps *once* – but if cannot do it “reliably, repeatedly and safely”, in Fraud’s own words you CAN NOT do it at all.

Apply the phrase “reliably, repeatedly and safely” all through your ESA50 or appeal form, use it on each of the descriptors. Make sure you state clearly which activities you can not do reliably, repeatedly, safely and in a timely manner, because Atos will otherwise assume you are consistently capable of them all.

2. Exceptional Circumstances – Regulations 25 and 31 for Universal Credit and Regulations 29 and 35 for current and ongoing ESA claims and Contribution-based ESA.

Regulations 25 and 31 will replace the old Special Regulations 29 and 35 from April 2013 for Universal Credit. This is in preparation for the abolishment of income-related ESA only, and not contribution-based ESA.

However, the old Regulations 29 and 35 still apply to ongoing cases that are not yet affected by Universal Credit, and will remain in place indefinitely for all Contribution-based ESA. So there are two sets of Regulations in place for Exceptional Circumstances.

Income-based ESA will be replaced by Universal Credit, as (or if) it is rolled out, but there will be the same additional financial components added as we currently have for ESA – you will be able to claim either the work-related activity or the support component.

The contents of both sets of Regulations are essentially the same. They are applied in the same way. 25 and 29 are for those who are not capable of work, and would usually be placed in the Work-Related Activity Group, and 31 and 35 apply to those not capable of work-related activity, and would normally be placed in the Support Group.

Because of the tick-box nature of the ESA50 form, it is likely that people will fall below the number of points required to be declared incapable of work – it doesn’t take into account variable illnesses, mental illness, or the effects of having more than one illness.

However, the Exceptional Circumstances Regulations may cover us – they both state that the claimant should be found incapable of work (Regulation 29 for ongoing ESA claims, 29 for Universal Credit) or work-related activity (Regulation 35 for ongoing ESA claims, 31 for Universal Credit) if:

  • they have an uncontrolled or uncontrollable illness, or “the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and

  • by reason of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work/work-related activity”.

If you feel this is your circumstance, then we suggest adding something like this, where you put “other information” on the ESA50:

“If the scoring from my answers above is insufficient, then I believe applying the Exceptional Circumstances Regulations would be appropriate due to the severity and interaction of my conditions, and my inability to reliably, repeatedly and safely encounter work-related situations and/or safely perform work-related tasks.

I am taking all available and appropriate medication as prescribed by my doctor(s), and there are no reasonable adjustments to a workplace which would mitigate my medical condition(s).

Therefore I believe being placed in the Support Group would be appropriate, because there would be a serious substantial risk to mental and/or physical health if I were placed into a workplace environment or in the work-related activity group.”

Please change the wording to fit your situation, delete “mental” or “physical” if appropriate, leave both in if necessary. If your illness cannot be controlled at all, or medication can’t be used to control it, add that instead.

Regulations 29 (for ESA) and 25 (for Universal Credit) cover people who might be put in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG), which has work-focused activities, sometimes it has workfare placements, and sanctions may apply, while Regulations 35 (for ESA) and 31 (for Universal Credit) cover people who are not well enough for any kind of work activity. This is for people who might be placed in the Support Group. There are no conditions placed on you for getting your ESA, such as workfare, if you have limited capability for work-related activity.

You can ask your doctor to support you with this claim, as it is stated in the regulations:

“(b) evidence (if any) from any health care professional or a hospital or similar institution, or such part of such evidence as constitutes the most reliable evidence available in the circumstances” may be presented to support your case.

Here are some links so you can download and print off documents to give to your GP to support your claim or appeal. You ought to submit copies of these to the DWP as soon as you can. (Make sure that you keep a copy)…….NOTE: This article goes on in some length and detail and we thought it was so relevant and useful for British people who use drugs/ have mental health issues/ disabilities etc, we just had to save it under Benefits, in our A-Z on Health Section. To go direct to that page, click link here:

For the rest of this brilliant piece of work, click here

Or for added Further reading Chosen by Kitty Jone’s blog writers; Robert Livingstone and Sue Jones.

More on questions you may be asked at assessment: dwpexamination forum 

How to deal with Benefits medical examinations: A Useful Guide to Benefit Claimants when up against ATOS Doctors

More support and advice here: How to deal with Benefits medical examinations

Step by step guide to appealing a ESA decision: Good Advice Matters

With many thanks to Joyce Drummond for contributing such valuable information about the Work Capability Assessment.With many thanks to The Black Triangle Campaign for sharing their work on the GP support letter template, and covering legal and explanatory documents
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