The dangers of the digital drug road

11 April 2013

Written by: Liam Quinn

The virtual black market Silk Road allows customers to purchase their choice of drugs online and receive it directly to their doorstep, seemingly risk free, removing the risk involved with meeting a dodgy drug dealer down an dark alleyway.

The website that has been appointed the illegal eBay and is not dissimilar to your usual purchase of shoes online. Silk Road operates off one simple method; you order your drugs online and receive them in the mail.

Receiving illicit drugs in the mail may sound absurd, however, hundreds if not thousands of Australians are using it. Sellers on Silk Road are not only chosen due to their quality of drugs and positive feedback but also their ability to pack drugs inconspicuously. Australia Post does not have the resources to effectively search every package they receive – it is estimated that it handles 5 billion items of mail a year.

The use of illegal drugs has been made far too easy through these unauthorised and illegal online suppliers. Silk Road offers a smorgasbord of drugs freely accessible, from cannabis to cocaine; LSD to heroin, and a variety of prescription medications. Buyers and sellers conduct all sales through the anonymous use of the Internet currency, Bitcoins, with little liability.

This two-year-old underground website cannot be accessed by just anyone, for obvious reasons. To get there you must make yourself anonymous. Users do this by using TOR (The Onion Router), a program that protects identities and makes IP addresses untraceable. It’s a similar system as used by Wikileaks, and other anonymous sites.

Tor claims it helps to keep you safe on the Internet, protection by preventing someone watching your Internet connection and learning what sites you search, as well as stopping the sites you visit from knowing your physical location. Due to this anonymity, authorities are aware of this website, but are powerless to close it.

This appears the perfect crime, but there are highly addictive and dangerous substances available with very little consequences. Silk Road boasts that only 1% of its packages have been intercepted and no one has been arrested to due to involvement with the site. Some people have argued that drug dealing online is a safer way to buy drugs, however, the variety of dangerous drugs available with very little accountability is perturbing.

A senior lecturer at the University of Tasmania, Raimonda Bruno told the The Sydney Morning Herald that this size of the digital drug market and the dangers of the drugs sold online alarmed him.

“People are dabbling in a wide range of substances we don’t really have a lot of human data on. Some of these products are neurotoxic and unpredictable.

“Almost all the [new psychoactive] drugs [available on Silk Road] haven’t had any history of human testing and because the blends don’t state the content, you can buy something one week and visit the same seller and buy the same brand and it can be different.”

Silk Road user and Melbourne resident Dale, attesting to having purchased a number of drugs from the Internet’s red light district, including MDMA, LSD and Xanax. He believes Silk Road is a safer option in comparison to traditional drug dealing methods and poses little risks to users.

“I don’t believe Silk Road is dangerous. Currently the problem is not with drugs, but the global failed war on drugs. Silk Road is useful because it shows the government that prohibiting something doesn’t drive the demand to zero.”

He believes the benefits of using Silk Road outweigh the possible dangers.

“Due to a lack of regulation in their market, drug dealers have a tendency to be unreliable. Because they possess a monopoly of sorts on the product it can render the buyer hostage to fluctuating price changes, dodgy quality and temperamental availability.

With user ratings, Silk Road introduces some accountability into the market, and with the quality of products I’ve purchased the risk of being caught has been offset with how convenient the purchasing is.”

But, despite the testimony of happy clients, Silk Road will continue to pose a danger to many users with dangerous drugs freely available.

Due to the anonymity that is provided by the use of Tor and Bitcoins, there is little that can currently be done by Australian law enforcement bodies to shutdown or prevent the use of this dangerous digital drug road.

As a result, we find ourselves on a path that could potentially end in disaster.

*upstart does not endorse the purchase and use of illegal drugs.

Bridget RollasonTHUMBBridget Rollason is a bachelor of journalism student and a member of the upstart editorial team. You can follow her on twitter @didgeriedoo