Drugs on the Internet, Silk Road and Online Pharmacies

There is a constantly evolving selection of online purveyors whose sole purpose is to connect would-be drug users with their substances of choice. From online pharmacies that provide addictive prescription painkillers, sedatives and stimulants without a prescription – or without verifying the requested prescription signed by a doctor – to cyber head shops that sell synthetic substances with active ingredients that may or may not currently be legal, there is no shortage of opportunities for those who are struggling with addiction to find their drug of choice online.

Easy access to illicit substances online means that everyone has access to anything they want. No matter how isolated their home, their age, or how rare their substance of choice, anyone with a laptop and internet access can buy substances that would otherwise be unavailable or require connecting with a drug dealer.

Depressed woman at computerJust like buying drugs on the street, however, there are a number of risks associated with online illicit drug purchases, and certainly, there is no safety or protection in making these purchases online. Many sites come and go very quickly leaving buyers no recourse if they don’t receive their purchase, have an issue with the product, or don’t get what they ordered, and those that do remain up are relatively unconcerned about quality control and customer service.

If your loved one is purchasing illicit substances online, don’t be fooled into thinking that the products are safe or legal. These drugs are just as life-threatening and addictive as versions sold on the street and just as likely to contribute to the development of health problems, including medical emergency and overdose.

Risks of Purchasing Illicit Substances Online

The sites that specialize in selling drugs of abuse are often anonymously run, located out of the country, not traceable and/or constantly changing in order to evade law enforcement in countries in which they are illegal. There is no way to investigate purchases in advance and ensure that pills are within their safe use date, determine where or how they were manufactured, or know for sure that the advertised drug is what it is purported to be.

For illegal substances like heroin and cocaine purchased on anonymous underground forums, the risk that the purchased drug is cut with toxic chemicals is just as high as the substances purchased on the street.

There is also the chance that the dealer will send an adulterated or heavily cut version of the drug, not send the correct amount ordered, or not send anything at all. And because transactions are anonymous, there is little ability to get restitution should a purchase go wrong.

Even sites that provide connections with local dealers are inherently dangerous. There is no guarantee that the person providing the substance will actually supply the specified drug or that the ad isn’t a setup for robbery. It’s difficult for those who are victimized by online drug dealers to report the issue or seek help given the illegal nature of the transaction.


Forums for Illicit Drug Purchase Online

  • Online pharmacies, often based in India, Canada or another locale
  • Anonymous online forums that provide a black market for street dealers
  • Head shops that sell synthetic substances
  • Online local sites where people place coded ads for certain substances of abuse

Silk Road

In October of 2013, federal agents shut down a hidden website called Silk Road that was dedicated to providing a forum for drug dealers to sell their wares and would-be buyers to purchase those substances – both anonymously. Through the use of a digital currency called Bitcoin, drug users could buy what they liked and have it shipped anywhere in the world.

bitcoin sign on a cafeIt was a site that generated millions in income for Ross William Ulbricht, also known as “Dread Pirate Roberts” and “DPR,” the alleged owner of the site. But it wasn’t just drug running that Ulbricht was arrested for; the 29-year-old from San Francisco was indicted on three charges that included conspiracy to sell a controlled substance, witness to attempted murder, and use of interstate commerce for the purposes of murder for hire, according to the US Department of Homeland Security.

These charges are serious and carry with them the possibility for as much as 40 years, 30 years, and 10 years in prison, respectively.

Silk Road was up and running for 2.5 years, and the online vessel through which hundreds of millions of dollars were laundered. Ulbricht managed the site on the Tor network and utilized Bitcoin for the purposes of payment in order to shield the IP addresses of everyone involved with the site.

There was a sinister side to the site as well. According to the United States Department of Justice, Ulbricht was willing to commit murder in order to protect the site, allegedly attempting to hire someone to kill a user who was threatening to reveal the real names and addresses of users unless Ulbricht gave him $500,000.

Silk Road 2.0

Unfortunately, despite the high-profile takedown of the infamous Silk Road site, it didn’t take long for another site to spring up in its place. Dubbed “Silk Road 2.0,” it appeared less than a month after Ulbricht’s arrest and the shutdown of the original site, demonstrating that law enforcement is engaged in an endless game of cat-and-mouse when it comes to taking down those who would supply illicit substances to users.

A Community of Drug Use?

online communityAll one has to do to find others who are interested in getting high, buying drugs online, and sharing with one another how to do so most efficiently and anonymously is to do a few quick searches on some popular forums online. Though it may seem that those in this online community are encouraging one another to relapse while in recovery or to take drug use to an unsafe extreme, it is – like many forums – where participants discuss taboo behaviors. Those who are interested in these behaviors seek them out. No one is forced to take part.

Some might even say that there is a benefit to these online groups. They say that because participants discuss methods of utilizing drugs without overdosing that they can decrease the number of lives lost due to inadvertent drug poisoning. However, there are others who say that the detailed discussions that frequently include step-by-step directions on how to use certain drugs may result in the loss of more lives.

While it is true that there is an online community – and an offline community – to support those who are interested in drug use, there is also a community of people online and offline to support those who are interested in overcoming their drug dependence and learning how to live a drug-free life.

Learning how to define one’s life and choose positive relationships that promote healthy living and wellness is a big part of recovery from addiction, and if online access to illicit substances is a trigger, it can and should be actively addressed during drug rehab.

Is Your Loved One Buying Illegal Drugs Online?

Certainly when a teenager purchases any illicit substance online, it is a sign of a serious problem, but is there any way that an adult could reasonably utilize any online sites for the purchase of any drug?

Though there are some who may be attempting to purchase their non-addictive medications through online pharmacies because the cost is cheaper than buying the medications locally, it is still an unsafe way to purchase medications. Just as addictive medications may be out of date or not be the drug that users believe them to be, the same stands for non-addictive medications sold through these sites.

In the same way, though some may attempt to defend their use of these sites by the fact that they have a prescription for the drug they are purchasing, it may still not be a medically safe version of their prescribed medications.

If they are attempting to double up on their prescription, then it is certainly a red flag that drug abuse or addiction is an issue.

The fact is that whether your loved one purchases illicit and illegal drugs online or on the street, it is equally dangerous. International packages in plain wrappers that arrive regularly may indicate the need for serious concern if there are also other signs of drug abuse in a family member.

It’s important to note, too, that no matter how drugs of abuse are purchased, they are illegal here in the United States. Intercepted packages can be just as legally damaging for the buyer as being caught exchanging money for drugs on a street corner.