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Opioid Addiction Influenced by Hashtags on Social Media

Teen holding their iphone with their social media apps section open  

The opioid epidemic and opioid addiction continue to plague the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017, more than 70,000 people died from a drug overdose. Of those deaths, 68% either are attributed to an opioid or involved an opioid. In 2017, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids was six times higher than in 1999.

During a recent Senate hearing, Monika Bickert, who serves as the head of global policy management for Facebook, spoke about the potential of the platform to help people struggling with opioid addiction.

Senate Hearing Addresses Opioid Addiction & Social Media

Bickert spoke to the Senate, saying she sees social media as a place of support for people struggling with opioid addiction or thinking about harming themselves. She said the company is looking at ways to bring together social media and addiction resources as well as making platforms a place for overall wellness.

Hashtags Linked to Drug Advertisements

Despite Bickert’s testimony to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, officials have seen the use of Instagram tags as a way for people to find drugs. For example, tags related to the opioid addiction epidemic and recovery are a way that people connect with drug dealers. As an example, top posts under hashtags like #opioidaddiction and #opioidcrisis have comments about accessing prescription opioids and contact information for encrypted messaging accounts.

A Facebook spokesperson issued a comment in response to the BuzzFeed report about the use of hashtags to sell drugs. The Facebook spokesperson said the platform doesn’t allow the sale of drugs on their platforms, including in comments. However, Instagram was described last year as a sizable open marketplace for advertising drugs. Instagram responded to that Washington Post report by cracking down on hashtags that included many of these offers.

Opioid Addiction Statistics

The wide availability of drugs on social media sites like Instagram can be a problem, particularly as it relates to teenage addiction to drugs. These platforms are popular among teens, and there are many teens addicted to prescription drugs.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the nonmedical use of prescription opioids by teens “remains high” and seven out of 10 teen opioid users combine these medications with other drugs or alcohol, which increases the risk of overdose.

Finding Opioid Addiction Support

While there is evidence suggesting that social media may not be the optimal place to access opioid addiction help, other resources are available. If teens are dealing with opioid addiction or any other type of addiction, their parents or other trusted authority figures may be able to connect them with resources and opioid addiction treatment. A primary care doctor may be able to indicate resources for opioid addiction help. There are also addiction treatment centers specifically geared toward the needs of teens.

If you would like to learn more about teen addiction treatment and personalized, compassionate and evidence-based programs, contact Next Generation Village today.


Bernstein, Joseph. “Instagram’s Opioid Recovery Hashtags Are Full of Drug Dealers.” BuzzFeed News, September 19, 2019. Accessed October 21, 2019.

Dwoskin, Elizabeth. “Instagram Has a Drug Problem. Its Algorithms Make It Worse.” The Washington Post, September 25, 2018. Accessed October 21, 2019.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances.” April 2013. Accessed October 21, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Opioid Overdose.” December 19, 2018. Accessed October 21, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer: Next Generation Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options, and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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