October 2013 – 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht is arrested by the federal government while chatting online at the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library.[i] A complex investigation uncovers Ulbricht is the originator of the dark web drug exchange site known as Silk Road.[ii]
February 2015 – Newsweek’s “The Rise and Fall of Silk Road, the Dark Web’s Amazon,” reports, “Ulbricht’s exchange was the logical extension of Craigslist or eBay or Uber, a company matching customers and collecting a fee, although in this case the buyers weren’t seeking poodle ashtrays or a ride in a Prius. Silk Road matched drug sellers and drug users across the globe. If hailing a cab seems out of date, so too is walking around a city park hoping to score some weed.”[iii]
September 2016 – two boys, 13-year-old Ryan Ainsworth and Grant Seaver, make the news – through their obituaries. The junior-high-schoolers get something called U-47700 or Pinky, a synthetic opioid, from “another local teenager, who bought the drugs on the dark web using bitcoin . . .”[iv] As Jim Seaver, Grant’s father, said in the NY Times, “It’s unimaginable that Grant could gain access to a drug like Pinky so easily, and be gone so quickly, poof.”[v]
Like the mythical Hydra, once the feds chopped off Silk Road’s head, the darknet beast sprouted more. “Ulbricht was arrested and the site taken down in late 2013, but imitators quickly proliferated. No federal agencies have released data on the prevalence of drugs ordered online. But the leading sites are doing far more business than the original Silk Road, according to findings by RAND Europe and researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.”[vi]
June 2017 – “the leading darknet market, AlphaBay, had more than 21,000 listings for opioids and more than 4,100 for fentanyl and similar drugs, from dozens of dealers. Many of these individual listings are like items in a catalog, representing an endless backroom supply of pills, powders and nasal sprays.”[vii]
Where I live in Washington State, “Snohomish County recorded the state’s second-highest number of fentanyl deaths last year – part of the ongoing opioid epidemic . . . Fentanyl, a powerful opioid, is considered 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and up to 50 percent more potent than heroin, state health officials say.”[viii] Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Washington State, as a whole, saw “significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2014-2015.”[ix] And we weren’t alone but were joined by Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and West Virginia.[x]
June 2017 – a NY Times analysis concludes, “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50.”[xi] According to ASAM, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, “Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US . . . Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic . . .”[xii]
Poof. One major dark web exchange site gets taken down and a myriad of imitators take its place. Poof. Two 13-year-old best friends are dead. Poof. Drug overdose becomes the leading cause of death under 50 and accidental death in the US.
The opioid epidemic has more heads than just the darknet. “Doctors have been prescribing more opioids every year since 1999, and as sales have climbed, so has the rate of overdose deaths . . . Some states, including Washington, have passed laws meant to curb use of prescription painkillers. But as a result, many addicts have turned to heroin, which can be cheaper and easier to get, according to ASAM.”[xiii]
Fighting a Hydra can seem insurmountable so how do you kill one? The answer is a coordinated, multi-pronged attack.[xiv] Global, national, regional, and municipal partners must come together. As a chemical dependency professional, on the front lines of this battle, I’m committed to fighting the beast, one person at a time.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.