The US’s struggle with opioid addiction rages on, and Facebook seems to have heard critics’ warnings about social media’s role in the epidemic. During an event yesterday, representatives from the company announced that users trying to purchase opioids or find addiction treatment through their platform will be redirected to information about a federal crisis helpline, according to reports from STAT and The Hill.
“We look at this as one of a number of steps that we've taken and will be taking to find ways to connect the community on Facebook with the resources they need,” Avra Siegel, a consultant for opioids who formerly worked for the Obama administration and has been added as Facebook’s policy programs manager, told The Hill.
MobiHealthNews has reached out to Facebook for comment, and will update this story with the company’s response.
Although Facebook’s announcement of the feature comes just a week before an opioids summit hosted by the FDA that specifically aims to address online illicit drug trafficking, the company said that it had been working with Facing Addiction, a recovery advocacy group, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, for months.
Siegel explained that the new system will respond to users entering an opioid-related request into the search bar by surfacing a prompt asking if the user would like treatment resources, followed by a link to the helpline. She went on to say that the social media company is “willing and eagerly want to work with the administration, the Hill, and whomever” on the issue of opioid misuse, according to The Hill.
“Every time we're made aware of content on our platform that violates these standards and if Facebook is in any way facilitating activity like drug sales, we remove it,” Siegel said. “We have a number of ways that we've tried to prevent the opportunity for that to occur. I think what’s really important is we have a very proactive, iterative process.”
Facebook has been dipping its toe into health-minded features for some time now. In early May, the company expanded its blood donation features in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan after strong feedback following an initial September rollout. Last year Facebook also focused its efforts on suicide prevention, and at one point was reportedly considering partnerships with US health organizations to share anonymized patient data for medical research purposes.