TAMPA - You can get anything on the internet nowadays -- cars, homes, and now, black tar heroin.
It’s called Silk Road, the anonymous marketplace.
It’s a website boasting thousands of members that was created in February, according to its administrators. On the main page, they proudly and openly sell LSD, marijuana, ecstasy, and most any other drug you can name.
“He is basically the eBay or the Amazon of the drug-trafficking world,” said Capt. Robert Alfonso, head of the narcotics division of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Silk Road is a website that allows participants to sell a number of goods, but by far the most popular area is the section pertaining to drugs. The site itself does not do the selling, but it allows a forum for members to sell and purchase various drugs, both prescription and non-prescription. An administrator claims the website is inspired by literature promoting free market/black market ideals.
Just like eBay or Amazon, the website features customer reviews of sellers, with comments like, “Highly professional! Amazing product!” and a few items with seller disclaimers saying their product “may cause illness, coma, and/or death.”
“I’m almost speechless, because to see that a website like this exists is frightening,” said addiction therapist Dan VanBomel.
VanBomel is a recovering addict and an addiction therapist at Turning Point of Tampa. He says Silk Road is a dangerous new concept.
“A drug addict will look for any way to get their addiction fed, and so when you provide an avenue that makes it easier for them, they’re going to abuse it,” VanBomel said.
One of administrators of the website disagrees. He responded to questions submitted on Silk Road’s website by I-Team investigator Michael George. He would not provide his name, the number of people who run the site, or the location of the administrators.
The administrator says he believes his website is “satisfying people and enriching their lives.”
Silk Road takes its security seriously. The web address isn’t something obvious, like “silkroad.com.” The address consists of a seemingly random group of letters and numbers. Even if you know the website and type it into your web browser, you won’t get in. To access Silk Road, you need a program on your computer that hides your identity and makes it more difficult for others to trace you or the sites you visit.
Investigator Michael George asked the Silk Road administrator about the addicts that could potentially die because of products sold on the website.
He responded, “I am so sorry if someone you know has been hurt by drugs, but it is my sincere hope that by making drugs available in a safe, secure, and predictable way, that we will eliminate the violence and danger of obtaining and using drugs through traditional methods. We also hope that, by increasing competition for providing drugs in our marketplace, the quality will rise and price will drop, so that addicts can afford the drugs they need and still have money left over to live a normal life, without as much danger of overdose."
“I see that as insanity. It makes absolutely no sense at all. This is what this person will say to justify his behavior, and it’s completely irresponsible,” VanBomel responded.
The DEA wouldn’t confirm to ABC Action News whether or not they’re investigating Silk Road. Captain Robert Alfonso of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says the law on websites like Silk Road is still vague. Also, most of the transactions on the website are for small, individual amounts of drugs, rather than large quantities, so the website is only now attracting attention. Captain Alfonso believes even if the website is shut down, there will be copycats.
“It will probably take, for lack of a better word, an act of Congress. There may have to be a law change,” Captain Alfonso said.
VanBomel hopes that Silk Road is shut down as soon as possible. He believes it’s only a matter of time before he starts seeing clients come to Turning Point of Tampa who are getting drugs from Silk Road.
“You cannot possibly offer acid to people and think that’s helpful,” VanBomel said.
Even the administrator of the website admits he’s not sure how long Silk Road will last. In his own words, he says, “it is worth the risk.”
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