The opioid abuse and overdose crisis affecting America is leaking into the way we use the internet. Social media giants Facebook and Instagram noticed an alarming trend in the use of drug abuse related hashtags and searches on the platforms, many of which were people seeking to illegally procure opioid medications and illicit substances or sharing photos and videos of their drug abuse.
While many people in the addiction recovery community use Facebook and Instagram to connect with others and share their experiences, others use the sites to connect with drug dealers and arrange to purchase dangerous substances including heroin and Fentanyl, which are largely responsible for the spike in overdose-related deaths.
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In June 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg participated in an Opioid Summit with the FDA to confront the trend of illegal opioid sales occurring on Facebook and other platforms like Twitter and Instagram. During the summit, Zuckerberg committed to making changes on the ultra popular social media site, including initiatives that would connect people searching specific terms with the federal crisis helpline. Facebook also blocks certain search inquiries to prevent drug dealers from finding vulnerable people to prey upon.
Now Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook, is joining the mission to fight opioid abuse. Users of the photo-based platform will be sent a pop-up offering assistance finding opioid abuse treatment when they search certain terms and hashtags, including #opioid and. The resources provided redirect users to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids. Like Facebook, Instagram also blocks certain inquiries which may help dealers connect with potential buyers.
While this initiative in no way forces Instagrammers into treatment, the intent is to encourage those in need to seek help in overcoming addiction. This, in combination with the support groups and recovery networks accessible via social media, is a great way to combat the opioid abuse crisis and substance abuse epidemic. Beyond simply making it harder to continue abusing opioid pain medication and illicit opiates, these two social media giants are also helping to raise awareness and start the conversation about addiction recovery.