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Silk Road's Doctor Says He Never Heard of an Overdose Related to the Site

Dr. X writes that Dread Pirate Roberts was supportive of harm reduction efforts, even paying him to keep offering advice.
Ross Ulbricht. Image: Free Ross

In April, government prosecutors laid down a fresh batch of claims against convicted Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht. They stated that six people had died as a result of overdosing from drugs purchased from the deep web marketplace.

Now, ahead of a court hearing this Friday before Ulbricht's sentencing, the defense has filed a declaration from "DoctorX", a trained physician who has worked as a harm reduction specialist on the deep web.

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"I wrote this because I think it is the right thing to do," DoctorX, whose real name is Fernando Caudevilla, told Motherboard in an email.

"The idea that [Silk Road] was only a place of vice and corruption is not adjusted to reality. I think it is fair that positive aspects are also shown and, in my opinion and experience, it is true that [Dread Pirate Roberts] supported a harm reduction perspective into [Silk Road]. Regardless other aspects, it is fair to consider this also," he continued.

As for the claims that several people have died as a result of Silk Road, "In my seven months monitoring and actively participating in the Silk Road forums I never came across even a single report of a Silk Road-related drug overdose," Caudevilla wrote in the declaration, which he shared with Motherboard.

Dread Pirate Roberts offered Caudevilla $500 a week to maintain his services on the forum.

Caudevilla has been working on harm reduction projects for well over a decade, including educating drug users on the risks of particular substances and testing local drugs in his home country of Spain for dangerous additives or impurities.

In April 2013, Caudevilla donned the DoctorX alias and started giving advice to drug users on the Silk Road forum on how to take narcotics as safely as possible. In his declaration, Caudevilla writes that he contacted Dread Pirate Roberts—the username adopted by the operator of the Silk Road, whom the government has convicted as Ross Ulbricht—in mid-August 2013 to "alert him to the fact that the time commitment required to answer all questions and keep up with the forum thread had become too great." In return, Dread Pirate Roberts offered Caudevilla $500 a week to maintain his services on the forum. Caudevilla was then paid until October 2013, when the FBI shut down Silk Road.

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In a testament to the character of Dread Pirate Roberts, Caudevilla wrote that the site's operator "also sought to partner with me to send the drugs sold on the Silk Road out to laboratories for independent testing as part of an effort to ensure that only pure, non-toxic substances were being sold on Silk Road." Caudevilla did in fact set up this testing service, but months after the Silk Road was seized.

When it came to the harm reduction elements of Silk Road, he wrote that the site "provided site users with the tools to take drugs in a safe and more informed manner." Caudevilla also claimed that some heroin users were drawn to the site because they could purchase methadone. Methadone is often used for the treatment of patients trying to reduce their dependency on heroin. "For some Silk Road users methadone was illegal or unavailable in their home countries," he wrote. "Accordingly, they would likely not have had access to the resources necessary to reduce their heroin use without the Silk Road."

In all, Caudevilla doesn't think that Ulbricht should be held responsible for the deaths. "Should Coca Cola owners be prosecuted [for] diabetes caused by their products? Or should firearm vendors be prosecuted [for] consequences of their products?" he said in the email.

Declarations were also filed from drug researchers Tim Bingham, who commented on benefits of the Silk Road community such as the exchange of drug safety information, and Monica Barratt, whose research into the site found that buyers were partly attracted to the Silk Road because of the higher quality of drugs on offer.

Ross Ulbricht is expected to be sentenced on May 29. His defense have said that they plan to appeal his conviction.