Facebook launches feature connecting users with opioid treatment information

Facebook users seeking to illegally buy opioids or to find treatment for an addiction will be met with a new feature offering the federal government’s national helpline, the company said Tuesday.

“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, Facebook’s policy programs manager who’s running its efforts to counteract the opioid epidemic, told The Hill.

The feature was planned in coordination with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and in consultation with Facing Addiction, an addiction advocacy nonprofit.

The announcement comes as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has urged social media companies and internet service providers to do more to crack down on illegal sales of opioids on their platforms.

In remarks in early April, Gottlieb said he was concerned “social media companies, internet service providers (ISP) firms that host websites, and others in the internet ecosystem haven’t been proactive enough in rooting out these illegal offers to distribute opioids from their respective platforms.”

Facebook works to remove this type of content, Siegel said, as the sale and trading of these drugs is prohibited on the platform.

“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.”

According to Siegel, when someone types in the search bar that they’re looking for help or are seeking to buy an opioid, the top of the search results page will include a prompt asking if the user would like treatment referrals and resources, and will then direct users to SAMHSA’s national helpline

The FDA is holding a one-day opioid summit with internet stakeholders, which Facebook plans to attend.

“We’re willing and eagerly want to work with the administration, the Hill and whomever to figure out how we make progress here because it’s going to take all of us,” Siegel said.