The leader of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, was convicted in February of operating the world's largest online drug marketplace, Silk Road, under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts.
Law enforcement and the Justice Department have publicly vilified but Ulbricht and the marketplace he ran. Yet while there were no doubt serious misdeed by Ulbricht, namely soliciting murder-for-hire schemes, his drug marketplace was actually far safer than any corner drug dealer.
So while the government trumpets their case and tries to scare online drug users, they're actually causing more harm than the marketplaces themselves.
Why? Because Ulbricht's marketplace had a doctor on staff. They paid a licensed doctor to help keep the site's customers healthier, safer, and better informed—even if it meant quitting drugs all together—according
And there's now a whole dark net project devoted to helping drug users to reduce harm.
The man who filled this role is Dr. Fernando Caudevilla, a Spanish physician specializing in drugs and addiction
Known in the underworld as 'DoctorX', he began in early 2013 by offering free professional advice to the drug users of Silk Road. Unlike everyone else on the site, DoctorX revealed his real identity from the start.
“Dread Pirate Roberts never censored my views or advice in any way,” Caudevilla wrote in a sworn statement, “even when I espoused views that Silk Road users should not use or buy certain drugs sold on the site (particularly Legal High or Research Chemicals, new synthetic drugs that have not been tested in humans and that have a higher potential for harm compared with other drugs), discouraged drug use, or helped Silk Road customers to reduce or cease drug use entirely.”
Lead defense attorney Joshua Dratel argued that Silk Road “consciously and deliberately included recognized harm-reduction measures,” like product testing and physician counseling, making the black market “significantly safer than traditional illegal drug purchases.”
New filings from Ulbricht's case show support for this position from notable academics: Monica Barratt, a research fellow at Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Center, and independent researcher Tim Bingham.
Both argue that Silk Road was a dramatic and conscientious improvement over all other options for the drug users who patronized it.
After five months as a volunteer, Caudevilla informed Ulbricht that “the time commitment required to answer all questions and keep up with the forum thread had become too great.” Immediately the man behind Silk Road offered a $500 paycheck to keep Caudevilla working on Silk Road. This rate was consistent for anyone else who worked on the site and meant at least a part-time commitment from the doctor.
Caudevilla accepted the offer and took the money—paid in Bitcoin, of course.
“He’s amazing. A gift to this community,” one user wrote about DoctorX on the Silk Road 2.0 forum. “His knowledge is invaluable, and never comes with any judgment.”
Ulbricht had bigger plans, recognizing the value such medical advice would bring to drug users to he sought a partnership with Caudevilla “to send the drugs sold on the Silk Road out to laboratories for independent testing as part of an effort to ensure that only safe, non-toxic substances were being sold on Silk Road,” Caudevilla explained.
Caudevilla began developing a drug-testing project, now known as Energy Control, to help dark net customers better understand if their drugs were safe or not.
“At the time the Silk Road website was shut down by law enforcement, we were still working on the project,” Caudevilla said.
Yet today, Energy Control provides just such an anonymous drug testing service. Since the fall of Silk Road, Caudevilla's work and that of his professional successors has attracted greater attention around the world.
Why? Because by studying, rather than vilifying, online drug marketplaces Caudevilla has found that drugs from the Dark Net are "much higher quality" than what you're going to find on the street.
While that means a better high it also, more importantly, means they are safer because they're less likely to be cut with dangerous extra ingredients.
So while the government locks Ulbricht up and throws away the key its important to remember that online drug marketplaces are, in fact, safer and better for public health than local drug dealers.