Are Recovery Hashtags On Social Media A Gateway For Dealers?

By David Konow 09/23/19

A BuzzFeed report highlights how dealers use social media hashtags to prey on people in recovery.

Image: 
woman in recovery reading a link from a dealer on Instagram
ID 100391447 © Kiosea39 | Dreamstime.com

While social media has opened up a lot of doors for people to be honest about addiction and to look for help, a report on BuzzFeed News says that social media platforms like Instagram may have also created a backdoor for dealers to sneak through.

As the report observed, quite a few Instagram posts with the hashtags #opioidcrisis and #opioidaddiction contained comments from other Instagram accounts letting people know where they can get access to OxyContin, Percocet, and other opioids.

Preying On Those In Recovery

These comments include contact information that can be used to reach these "dealers" on encrypted messaging accounts. One commenter offered “fast deals” for “Oxys, Roxy, Xans, Addy, codeine, perc” underneath a video that addressed the fatal toll of the drug crisis. (This person even promised that these opioids were “available 24.7 for delivery.”)

A spokesperson for Facebook told BuzzFeed, “We do not allow the sale of illegal drugs on Instagram. It is against our policies to buy, sell or trade medical or pharmaceutical drugs on our platform—including in comments. Inappropriate comments can and should be reported, and will be reviewed like posts or stories.”

In a Senate hearing that took place on September 18, Monika Bickert, the head of global policy management for Facebook, which owns Instagram, said, “We have seen social media be a tremendous place of support for those thinking of harming themselves or struggling with opioid addiction. We’re exploring and developing ways of linking people up with resources.”

Selling Drugs In The Comments Section

BuzzFeed reports that an activist named Eileen Carey, who has been monitoring drug sales on social media, approached Bickert after the hearing and showed her the comments.

Carey said Bickert “thanked me for flagging,” but the hashtags Carey discovered were still up and running a day later. 

According to Refinery 29, in April 2018, Instagram went after certain hashtags including #oxycontin, #fentanyl and #opiates.

Then-commissioner of the FDA, Scott Gottlieb, said at the time, “Internet firms simply aren’t taking practical steps to find and remove these illegal opioid listings. There’s ample evidence of narcotics being advertised and sold online. I know that internet firms are reluctant to cross a threshold; where they could find themselves taking on a broader policing role. But there are insidious threats being propagated on these web platforms.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.