We need a new way to make sweeping assumptions about entire populations, and what better place to start than drugs? After all, there’s so much you can tell about a person from their drug of choice. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply the same logic to entire countries?
My Top Secret Meeting with One of Silk Road’s Biggest Drug Lords
Dread Pirate Roberts captained a ship that many thought was unsinkable. But when the FBI seized the original Silk Road on October 1, 2013 ,and arrested the alleged kingpin—29-year-old Ross Ulbricht—the online drugs empire began to capsize. Its hundreds of thousands of customers scattered across the Deep Web, and up to seven known Silk Road vendors were identified and arrested.
As the chaos unravelled into the mainstream and stories of Dread Pirate Roberts’ (DPR) alleged murder-for-hire antics made headlines, one prominent Silk Road drugs syndicate sat in their European safe-house with a ton of opium and a decision to make—would they cut their losses and disappear into the ether while they were still ahead, or keep their lucrative online drugs network running in the midst of all this extra attention?
The displaced drugs syndicate, known on the Deep Web as the Scurvy Crew (TSC), decided to go back to work. For them, back to work meant laundering Bitcoins, vacuum packing drug parcels, and jumping the Moroccan border with bags stuffed full of uncut drugs. Silk Road may have died a sudden death at the hands of the authorities, but as one of the highest rated vendors before the FBI shut-down, the Scurvy Crew saw its demise as an opportunity to diversify.
After six months of negotiation, via encrypted email and several phone calls from throwaway SIM cards, the boss of the Scurvy Crew agreed to meet me. He told me he would explain to me the inner workings of his Deep Web drugs venture, from its humble beginnings to the near million-dollar profits it now apparently generates. Known to me only by the pseudonym “Ace,” the boss claimed to represent a new breed of drug dealer.
“I don’t do this just for the money,” he wrote to me via email. “I like to provide a premium service.”
The New Face of Heroin
This Doctor Says He Can Cure Heroin Addicts by Putting Them in a Coma
Muhammad had many good reasons for being pissed off. He was far from home, his arm was bleeding, and he’d recently come out of a coma. The stranger asking about his heroin addiction probably didn’t help. But he had already tried drug clinics in France, Spain, Italy, and Turkey, and none of them had worked. He’d come to Kyrgyzstan because he thought it was his last chance.
He’d traveled from Algiers based on the reputation of the Nazaraliev Medical Center, a private clinic near Bishkek. The center claims that 80 percent of its patients stay drug free for at least a year after receiving treatment there. Many of those it treats come from Russia or the former Soviet Union, but there’s no shortage of domestic customers. Heroin use has drastically increased in Kyrgyzstan over the last decade. The last official estimate, in 2006, put the number of intravenous drug users in the country at 26,000. According to Dr. Alexander Zelichenko, Director of the Central Asian Center on Drug Policy, there may now be around 100,000 users in a country with a population just below 5.6 million.
VICE on HBO – Episode 7: Addiction
Segment 1: Tobaccoland
The dangers of smoking are no secret in the U.S., but in Indonesia, the tobacco industry is virtually unregulated. The result? Over two-thirds of all men are smokers, and it is commonplace for children as young as six to take up the habit. Tobacco is a $100 billion industry here, with TV and print ads everywhere. Investigating this phenomenon in Malang, VICE visits a clinic that promises cures to a plethora of modern ailments through tobacco and smoking — with our intrepid correspondent getting the full smoke-therapy treatment.
Segment 2: Underground Heroin Clinic
Heroin is the most addictive drug on earth, and some people will do anything to kick the habit. Enter Ibogaine — a drug made out of the African iboga root, whose intense, hallucinogenic properties make it a Type-A felony drug. But many swear it’s the most effective way to kick heroin addiction — especially when combined with a voodoo-type ritual that involves face paint and chanting. VICE follows the journey of a heroin addict who travels to Mexico, where Ibogaine is legal, to try to finally quit.
When people talk about ending the drug war, they usually mean “no one should go to prison for marijuana.” There’s no doubt the public has shifted its collective opinion on pot—currently, a majority of Americans believe it should be as legal, regulated, and taxed as tobacco and alcohol—and naturally, politicians are beginning to sense the way the wind is blowing. But elected officials, like people at large, are less gun-ho about legalizing the harder drugs.
First, let’s clarify that no one is recommending that we all follow Philip Seymour Hoffman’sexample and start shooting up. Heroin is awful. Don’t do heroin. It fucks up your life. But as the case of the fentanyl-cut heroin that has killed 22 people in Pittsburgh illustrates, the only thing worse than legal heroin is illegal heroin.
In the aftermath of Hoffman’s death, Jeff Deeney, a former drug addict who now works as a social worker, wrote a piece in the Atlantic that calls for treating heroin like a health issue, not a criminal act. All the nasty effects of this drug—and all the reasons not to do it—are magnified by the threat of prison, the stigma that leads to shame and secrecy, and the increased of HIV and infection that comes with sharing needles. According to Deeney, if Hoffman had access to a space where it was legal to shoot heroin and where doctors could supervise users, he might still be alive. Why doesn’t the US have any such sites, though Vancouver, Canada, does? Why the hell isn’t Naloxone, the much-touted miracle drug that stops opioid overdoses, not available over the counter? Why isn’t it passed out in urban health clinics like candy? Out of the 1.5 million peoplearrested for drug crimes in 2012, 82 percent were for possession, and 16.5 percent of those were for cocaine, heroin, or associated drugs. Did those arrests do anyone any good?
One reason legalizing pot is more popular than legalizing heroin is that far more people smoke than shoot. At least 100 million people in the US have done marijuana, while the number of frequent heroin users has stayed under half a million for decades. But use (which isn’t necessarily addiction) has nearly doubled since 2007—one survey calculated that 669,000 Americans had done heroin in 2012, compared with 373,000 in 2007. (This may be because some former pill addicts move on to heroin, as Hoffman did).
That’s what prohibition (which includes policies that levy draconian punishments for pill possession) does—it causes rippling effects in human behavior. It does not stop drug use, though it may change a user’s drug of choice. Regardless, it’s time to give up trying to scare addicts into getting healthy and do what Portugal did in 2001 and decriminalize all drugs. Laws can’t stop people from using drugs, they can only make drug use a more harrowing experience for addicts who have to deal with jail time and police harassment and products that, thanks to a lack of oversight, may contain dangerous chemicals.
This country needs to grow up and realize that the legal system is a hammer, and drug users and addicts are not nails. End the drug war. End it all.
If the War on Drugs Is Failing, Where’d All the Cocaine Go?
Toward the end of last year, the DEA published its 2013 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, a 28-page report chronicling drug consumption trends across the United States. These include the continued rise in abuse of prescription drugs (second only to marijuana in popularity), the increase in the production of heroin in Mexico and its availability in the U.S., and the emergence of synthetic designer drugs.
Much of the report is unremarkable—until you arrive at the section on cocaine. “According to [National Seizure System] data,” it reads, “approximately 16,908 kilograms of cocaine were seized at the southwest Border in 2011. During 2012, only 7,143 kilograms of cocaine were seized, a decrease of 58 percent.”
That sharp decline echoes an ongoing trend: 40 percent fewer people in the United States used cocaine in 2012 than they did in 2006; only 19 percent of Chicago arrestees had cocaine in their system two years ago compared to 50 percent in 2000; and less high school seniors say they’ve used cocaine in the last 12 months than at any time since the mid-70s. In fact, the report indicates cocaine was sporadically unavailable in Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, and St. Louis in the spring of 2012. So where’d the blow go?
Buying Your Drugs Online Is Good for You
Silk Road 2.0, the successor to the deep web’s most infamous marketplace, just passed a new milestone. Despite a dramatic holiday season, when three of its staff and several vendors were arrested on conspiracy charges, there are now over 10,000 narcotics listings on its pixelated shelves. And, according to its acting administrator “Defcon”, traffic to the website has doubled since December.
So it appears that the site—where you can anonymously get your hands on pretty much any substance you want, as well as a bunch of other illegal stuff that you’d usually need Turkish mob connections to access—is just as resilient to the feds as its current ownershad promised it would be.
And far from the digital trap house many have depicted it to be, Silk Road 2.0 has continued its predecessor’s aim of allowing drug users to make informed decisions about their use of psychoactive substances, both by providing products that are open to quality checks and through the spread of honest information about how to take those products as safely as possible.