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Swipe Right for Drugs: How Social Media is Fueling the Opioid Crisis


While President Trump and his administration have made the battle against opioids one of their top objectives, access to illegal drugs is just a swipe away. 

Social media users have long taken advantage of the use of hashtags to purchase narcotics.

Hashtags are keywords used via social media to search a particular topic.

But as Wired reports, one woman is bringing about major changes.

Eileen Carey has repeatedly requested that companies eliminate the search results for words pertaining to certain drugs. 

She called them out by using, you guessed it, social media.

According to Wired, her messages have caught the attention of Facebook VP Guy Rosen, and now there’s action from the social media giant at least regarding Instagram. Facebook owns Instagram.

An Instagram search of the hashtag #OxyContin for example used to yield results, now it reads “no results found. “

However, the company stopped short of making changes when it comes to Facebook itself.

Illegal pharmacies have become a problem via the social media giant.

During last week’s Congressional testimony, CEO Mark Zuckerberg was asked about the sale of prescription drugs via Facebook.

“Your platform is being used to circumvent the law and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,” challenged Congressman David McKinley, R-WV. 

“I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job policing on our service,” Zuckerberg replied.

Zuckerberg says when users flag the ads, Facebook reviews and removes them.

Even with thousands of employees on watch, it’s hard to catch everything, so Facebook relies on its users to report illegal activity.

Giant tech companies, like Facebook, have come under fire lately, when it comes to how much responsibility they bear to users.

Zuckerberg testified before Congress after 87 million Facebook users had their personal information compromised by political data mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

The Cost to Ship

Once the drugs are purchased, in many cases they must be shipped.

A U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded that finding the drugs and receiving them wasn’t really that hard.

“We discovered it is shockingly easy – all we had to do to was search ‘fentanyl for sale,” said Senator Rob Portman, R-OH.   

“That simple search returned hundreds of websites, many affiliated with Chinese labs, all openly advertising illegal drugs,” Portman continued.

According to the report, an Ohio man received such a shipment and was dead within weeks from acute fentanyl intoxication.

Fentanyl, a synthetic version of heroin is known for its extreme potency.

The subcommittee found sellers prefer the US Postal Service because the chances of being caught were minute.

That report has prompted the FDA to take action.

Earlier this month, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called for a meeting with tech CEOs to better determine how to they can help in the war on opioids. 

Read the subcommittee’s full report here.

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