Silk Road may be gone and Silk Road v.2 yet to prove itself, but the site has become culturally significant enough to attract the attention of some serious academic researchers. And unlike the plethora of tabloid news pieces, their starting position is not always that the online black market is a den of evil inhabited by junkies and thieves with no redeeming features whatsoever.
The National Drug and Research Institute is a Curtin University-backed research body committed to minimising the harm associated with drug use. The NDRI is calling for Silk Road users to participate in research and interviews about their experiences using the site.
Despite assurances of anonymity and the researchers’ ethical obligations to maintain privacy of participants, it can be difficult to find people willing to discuss their drug use. Many Silk Road users are (sometimes justifiably) paranoid about discussing their illegal activities. The NDRI has taken the extraordinary step of providing a means for willing participants to be interviewed over encrypted chat. There is no need to provide any identifying information.
The institute has no hidden agenda; harm minimisation is its only goal and sites like Silk Road raise unique questions for researchers. “There’s an assumption that people will use more drugs or come to more harm if drugs are more available,” says Research Fellow Dr Monica Barratt. “We think it’s more complex than this, and think the situation that Silk Road users can find themselves in, where many drugs are more available, provides an interesting experiment. What happens to people’s drug use in this situation?”
If you are reading this and you are a current or previous user of one of the online black markets, I urge you to assist the NDRI. It will certainly be more beneficial than trying to justify yourself to a tabloid journalist. These are the good guys.
Another interesting study resulting in the paper “Responsible Vendors, Intelligent Consumers: Silk Road, the online revolution in drug trading,” was carried out by School of Health Sciences, Waterford Institute of Technology in conjunction with the Irish Needle Exchange Forum.
Further information about the NDRI’s Silk Road Project can be found at http://ndri.curtin.edu.au/research/silkroad/