On a cool October afternoon in 2013, FBI officials announced their arrest of 29-year old Ross Williams Ulbricht, better known by his internet pseudonym, Dead Pirate Roberts, in San Francisco, CA. Ulbricht was subsequently unmasked as the head administrator of the website Silk Road; a Dark Web server-based website in which a whole array of illegal goods and services were available to consumers including prostitution, killers for hire, illicit narcotics.
The DOC had reportedly seized over $3.5 million worth of bitcoin (protected online based currency which were used to purchase illegal drugs) which was used to purchase illegal drugs of all varieties.
Though the exact amounts varied, Silk Road had apparently reported a net revenue of $2.1 Billion Dollars. Prosecutors and federal investigators were stunned. It had become beyond apparent to them that the illicit black market of drugs had indeed completely changed its playing field.
The site was immediately shut down, and in the following years, subsequent reboots (such as Silk Road 2.0) were also swiftly brought down by federal officers, at the expense of hardened investigations which involved sifting through miles of encryption software and other clandestine cyber tools which web-based criminals are no stranger to.
Flash forward nearly 4 years, Portland, OR. In Feb of 2017, an 18-year old girl is found dead in her apartment by her mother. The cause of death is immediately apparent; a drug overdose. Local police and federal investigators were again called to the scene and stumbled upon a substance in which they could not immediately identify. It had appeared to be a synthetic hybrid of an array of drugs, primarily opioid based.
Further investigation by the Oregon FBI Cyber Taskforce had deduced that the drug that caused her untimely passing was a synthetic hybrid developed in China which is so new that it has never even been encountered by local health officials. The trail led to a server based out of South Carolina, where the online drug dealer was apprehended.
What does this bring to mind for us in the addiction health field? We as professionals may find it trite to consider elements of illicit markets (finding them best left to professionals) but to understand the severity of the current drug culture can prove to be beyond valuable. Websites found on the Dark Web offer easy and safe access to purchasing narcotics. They also can provide a cloak of anonymity that has not been common to buying drugs in the past. Instead of assuming risks of a potentially dangerous and unstable drug dealer, potential customers are simply a few clicks away and 5-7 business days from their drug of choice.
The next portion to understand is that it is not the severity of having these new-age black market available in the age of endless information and technology, but the entire menu of drugs have changed with the introduction of synthetic opioids, who are free of regulation and FDA approval, often times developed in countries with looser regulations and guidelines. Law enforcement officials and scientists alike are now just beginning to understand the chemical makeup of some of these substances, but as death tolls are rising steadily year by year from synthetic opioids, it is no wonder why the US leads the entire world in drug related deaths.
So, the playing field has changed in the realm of where and how to get drugs. That we can be certain of. What does that call for the realm of recovery from substance abuse to do? In this writer’s humble opinion, the best plan of action is to fight fire with fire. Through numerous online resources such as social media groups and websites, recovery has also become a simple click away, ranging from closed groups on Facebook, to 12 Step Meetings on Skype and other video chatting software. It is resources like this which bring us into a new age, and a new way of connecting with those who struggle.
Finally, one amazing tool these web-based resources offer us is a community bent on the support of those who suffer when they can’t get to a meeting or call their sponsor. Perhaps they’re miles away from their support group or perhaps have just relocated.
When an addict’s addiction is one click away, the results can be catastrophic. When recovery extends its reach, in the same way, the results can be just as powerful and based off of love, healing, experience, strength, and as always, hope.
-J. Dalton Williams BA
Oregon Trail Recovery, LLC.