Next time you are shopping around online and come across a deal on your prescriptions, take a closer look.
With the crackdown on opioids happening all over the nation, many people are finding new ways to try and get their hands on these powerful prescription drugs. Some may be illicit drug traffickers looking for a new way to get their supply and reduce the risk. Meanwhile, others may be everyday people looking for a cheaper, easier method to get their pain management medications. Either way, if you are getting your drugs online, it’s more than likely you’re breaking the law.
Online Opioid Pharmacies or Digital Drug Dealers
The internet is famous for making our lives more convenient. Whether we are shopping for new shoes, movie tickets, or even our weekly groceries, the internet has found a way to let it be a mouse click or touch-screen tap away. So of course, many would be willing to believe you could order plenty of your much-needed medications online. Yet, with a new report by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) we find most of these sales are actually illegitimate.
The report was initially released on opioid sales on the darknet. However, during the research, the CSIP found that people on both the Dark Web and “surface web” sell drugs like opioid painkillers. The distribution of these potent medications is being done through online opioid pharmacies. Nonetheless, according to the FDA:
97% of online pharmacies operate illegally
Just to break things down a little bit, let us explain two key terms.
The surface web is the portion of the world wide web as we know it that is readily available to the general public. This is where you do most of your online shopping, social media activity, and probably where you are reading this article right now.
Strangely, even though people would think that anything on the surface web is probably safer, the CSIP report states that “surface websites” actually involve higher risks for scams. For example, this would be non-delivery schemes where the site takes your money without producing a product, or credit card and identity theft.
This is the World Wide Web content that exists on “darknets”. These are networks that use the internet, but require specific software, configurations or authorization to access. The dark web forms a small part of the “deep web”, which is the part of the internet not indexed by search engines.
The Dark Web is where a lot of the internet’s most illicit activities actually happen. It is a modern digital underground.
Many of these so-called online opioid pharmacies are only click-baiting people into the illicit drug trade. In reality, these are drug-dealing websites set up to look like they simply sell prescription pills to those in need. Some even go as far as to offer prescriptions for the drugs. CSIP’s report also states that these online pharmacies will attempt to use social media platforms to advertise their products, including:
Some of these online opioid pharmacies will claim on their website that they are legitimate and legally approved. However, CSIP’s executive director Marjorie Clifton says that’s impossible for most of them. In one interview Clifton states:
“It’s absolutely illegal to buy opioids on the internet.”
Now, it is not entirely illegal to operate a pharmacy online. Clifton said that some non-opioid-selling pharmacies are legal. However, these entities do have to follow certain rules. For example:
- They must have a brick-and-mortar location
- Must be licensed in every state that they sell to
You can verify that the pharmacy that you’re buying from is legal by using tools created by the CSIP.
Not only is it risking legal action to use these illegitimate sources, it is also a serious health risk. Online opioid pharmacies may seem like an economical and efficient way to get medication, but non-certified pharmacies present significant danger because there is no way of knowing what you are getting. Clifton states:
“One, you might not get the concentration you thought you were going to get, it could be a placebo.”
“There have been cases when it’s rat poison or lead paint. So you have no idea what you’re taking if you’re not buying from a certified pharmacy.”
It is already dangerous enough for getting these medications illegally on the street. Over the years there have been countless reports of other powerful and toxic substances being pressed into forged pill forms. That risk is very real when buying drugs from an anonymous source over the internet.
Internet Associations Fighting Back
CSIP is an organization made up of representatives of companies like Google and Microsoft. Clifton says there are no ties between this tech industry collaboration and the pharmaceutical industry. The organization says it is committed to reducing harm from illegitimate online opioid pharmacies. Clifton also says that the issue of drug addiction is personally devastating, adding that several board members have lost loved ones to addiction.
So far, CSIP has removed more than 100 million ads and social media posts. The organization has effectively shut down thousands of illegal online opioid pharmacies. Many of these sites were functionally the same illegal pharmacies operating with different URL’s, but belonging to the same scammers.
Even though increased regulation resulted in a small jump in darknet sales, the vast majority of prescription drug abuse comes from prescriptions written by actual doctors. Overall, the CSIP report found that less than 5% of opioids purchased in the US came from anywhere on the internet. CSIP reports were also utilized in the Online Opioid Summit hosted by the FDA last month when top names in internet stakeholders got together with advocacy groups and other government officials to discuss the role internet companies play in combatting the opioid crisis. Most of the tech industry insists they should not be blamed for the opioid crisis.
Still, the organization is trying to play a part in eliminating online opioid pharmacies. Beyond that, we should also focus on promoting safe medical detox opportunities, along with dual diagnosis programs and holistic drug treatment options.
When we talk about fighting the spread of addiction, one thing we have to remember is to make sure people looking for help get all the information they need. Palm Partners Recovery Center believes that we should also focus on using our digital footprint to help people learn about the risks associated with substance abuse, and give them the opportunity to learn about safe and effective treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Tomorrow morning, June 27, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. will host a one-day Online Opioid Summit. The guest list to the summit includes:
- Internet stakeholders
- Government entities
- Academic researchers
- Advocacy groups
The aim of the event is to discuss ways to collaboratively take stronger action in combatting the opioid crisis by reducing the availability of illicit opioids online. And when it comes to the internet, there are no bigger names in America than Google, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There will be presentations by the Food and Drug Administration and other organizations. A webcast will be available of the Opioid Summit for the general public.
So what will the FDA, Google and the biggest names in social media have to talk about?
Online Opioid Markets
Over the past decade, opioid-related deaths have continued to climb. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and FDA:
- In 2005 there were around 12,900 opioid-related deaths
- In 2016 there were well over 42,000
More recent figures show that on average, 115 Americans die every day from opioid abuse. There are a few elements that have contributed to this devastating trend, including the over-prescription of painkillers like Oxycontin and an influx of heroin into the country.
So what does the place you get your sponge-bob square-pants memes have to do with opioid abuse in America?
When we’ve taken a closer look at the opioid crisis, we have discovered that illicit sales of either prescription medications, illegal narcotics or synthetics like fentanyl from overseas have found a home in online marketplaces. According to a study by Carnegie Mellon University, revenues from illicit drug sales online have grown substantially over the last several years.
- 2012- online illicit drug sales were between $15 and $17 million
- 2015- those illicit drug sales online shut up to between $150 and $180 million
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy conducted research by searching online for prescription opioids across the three major search engines. They found that nearly 91% of the first search results led users to an illegal online drug distributor offering prescription opioids.
Needless to say, those numbers show there are still dark corners of the internet dealers exploit for drug trafficking. In fact, when Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress in April, one of the big questions he was repeatedly confronted with was how Facebook intended to fight illegal drug sales on their site. This Opioid Summit is about a collaborative effort to do better about restricting online drug sales.
While dark websites like the notorious Silk Road have been a major component to digital drug dealing, social media sites, and search engines have found their formats being abuse for these activities as well. Between illegal online pharmacies, drug dealers and other criminals the use of the internet to distribute opioids with minimized risk has steadily increased.
The Opioid Summit will address the state of the opioid crisis and invite Internet stakeholders to present how their companies are working to fight the sale of opioids on their sites and protect their users. A statement by the FDA adds:
“One critical step to address this public health emergency is the adoption of a far more proactive approach by internet stakeholders to crack down on internet traffic in illicit drugs.”
Facebook has already announced new efforts to prevent the sales of opioids through their site. The approach by Zuckerberg and his team is actually unique. Facebook users who try to buy opioids or search for addiction treatment will be redirected toward information about finding free and confidential treatment referrals. Users will also be directed to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline.
On the Opioid Summit agenda, there are a few important discussions, including:
This will include a brief opioid crisis overview from Donald Ashley, J.D., Director, Office of Compliance, FDA. There will also be a presentation on the DEA Internet Investigation. And different experts will present research regarding the ease of purchasing opioids online.
This discussion will include a number of presentations, including one from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies. Even the Vice President of MasterCard, Paul Paolucci, will be part of the roundtable.
It is important to note that only the FDA speaker presentations will be webcast to the public.
The takeaway here is that hopefully as the illicit drug market evolves, using search engines and social media to try and carve out a space for trafficking, the biggest names in internet will also be working to actively prevent these illegal industries from flourishing on their sites. Hopefully, the summit will introduce new measures to make it harder for dealers to take advantage of social networking tools. Social media is for bringing people together. Sadly, some still use it to sell the drugs that tear communities and families apart. Next, there should be more discussion about comprehensive addiction treatment.
It is important that those with the ability to reduce drug trafficking take action where they can. An even more crucial aspect of putting an end to the ongoing opioid crisis is safe and effective treatment resources. For over 20 years, Palm Partners Recovery Center has been actively helping people struggling with addiction to transform their lives and heal. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Zuckerberg Testimony: Should Facebook Be Stopping Opioid Trafficking?
Author: Justin Mckibben
This past Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg found himself sitting in front of a tough crowd on Capitol Hill for 2 days of questioning that covered various topics about the social media empire. The testimony covered how Facebook influences politics, handles user data, and what steps are being taken to prevent abuse of the massive tech companies international platform.
During the testimony of Mark Zuckerberg, the topic came up of drug trafficking, specifically opioid sales, through Facebook.
Is Social Media Enabling Illegal Activity?
The line of questioning concerning opioids came from David McKinley. McKinely is the Republican Representative from West Virginia. On day two of the testimony, Mark Zuckerberg was grilled about opioid dealers abusing the social media space in order to distribute their drugs. During the conversation, McKinley states,
“Your platform is still being used to circumvent the law, and allow people to buy highly addictive drugs without a prescription,”
The Congressman went on to ask,
“With all due respect, Facebook is actually enabling an illegal activity and, in so doing, you are hurting people. Would you agree with that statement?”
“Congressman, I think that there are a number of areas of content that we need to do a better job of policing on our service. Today the primary way that content regulation works here … is that people can share what they want on the service, and then if someone sees an issue they flag it to us, and then we will review it.”
During McKinley’s comments, he actually shows Zuckerberg with images on a screen that opioids and other prescription narcotics are still actively being sold via Facebook. Later in McKinely’s statements he adds,
“That was just from yesterday. It’s still up. So my question to you is- when are you going to take down these posts that are done by illegal digital pharmacies?”
“Congressman, when people report the posts, we will take them down and have people review them.”
When the congressman continued to press Zuckerberg on Facebook taking responsibility for the posts made on the platform concerning illegal drugs, Zuckerberg replied,
“Congressman, I agree that this is a terrible issue and respectfully, when there are tens-of-billions or a hundred-billion pieces of content shared every day… even 20,000 people reviewing it can’t look at everything. What we need to do is build more AI tools that can proactively find that content.”
- AI referring to artificial intelligence.
This is not the first time critics have called out tech companies for falling short on policing illicit drug sales through their platforms.
In 2011, search-engine giant Google agreed to pay $500 million to the Department of Justice for showing prescription drug ads from Canadian online pharmacies to U.S. consumers. Only a week before Zuckerberg sat down to speak with Congress, the FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb had already called on social media platforms to root out and exterminate the online opioid trade. Gottlieb stated,
“We find offers to purchase opioids all over social media and the Internet, including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo, and Bing. But when it comes to opioids, we haven’t seen meaningful, voluntary actions.”
Some of the posts McKinely flagged to Facebook have already been taken down. However, McKinley still says that Facebook’s internal controls “don’t seem adequate” in regards to detecting and removing illegal drug posts.
Are Zuckerberg and Facebook Responsible?
The biggest theme- whether it came to Cambridge Analytica, censorship of political views, selling consumer data or illicit opioid marketing- was accountability.
The question throughout the testimony is- are Zuckerberg and Facebook responsible?
Some have argued that if Facebook intends to censor things like hate speech or political interference, then they should also be responsible for monitoring and shutting down any illegal activity happening on the website. Some people believe that if drug dealers are posting on social media, their posts should be automatically removed. That is a good goal. Others might even insist that Facebook should report these profiles to law enforcement to help investigate dealers and make more arrests.
But should Facebook be mandated and regulated to enforce these ideas? Moreover, should they be punished when people manage to cheat their system or slip through the cracks?
Many might argue Facebook should not be punished for the posts individuals make. One comparison might be that we do not prosecute cell-phone service providers when their products and services are used in illegal activity. And if we expect Facebook to thoroughly monitor all activity and report any suspicious behavior to the authorities, should cellular services be held to the same standard?
While private phone-calls are a far cry from public posts to the internet, what is the best way walk this line of privacy and security in the digital age?
Is it fair to say that Mark Zuckerberg is himself hurting people because his company is unable to police the hundreds of billions of posts made to their site every day? Or is it true that the company is slacking when it comes to addressing these issues promptly and effectively?
Social media is changing a lot of the way we communicate, and like any other advancement, it can be taken advantage of. One thing is certain; if we want to fight the opioid epidemic we have to put more research into prevention, and more focus and support into safe and effective treatment. Technology can impact drug use, but it can also connect people and help them get on the right path toward recovery. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now. We want to help.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
(This content is for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)
New legislation being pushed to empower EMTs may soon change the way first responders in California help patient get care while trying to ease the overcrowding of emergency rooms. A bill as proposed will allow paramedics to bring a patient to sobering centers and mental health clinics, instead of taking them to the ER. So should EMTs take patients to these alternative facilities to receive more specific forms of care?
Giving EMTs Options
When dealing with a situation, law enforcement personnel are permitted to transport individuals who are intoxicated or experiencing a mental health crisis to sobering centers or mental health clinics if deemed appropriate. Sometimes this is the best place for a patient, depending on the specific circumstances. However, under current state law in California, Emergency Medical Technicians (or EMTs) and paramedics must bring patients to the emergency room.
Some argue that requiring EMTs and paramedics to transport these patients to the ER is not only contributing to overcrowding in emergency rooms but also it is often not the best place for them. Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn is one of many who believes this is a “common sense” option for EMTs. Hahn states,
“The bottom line is that if people like you and I can take an individual to a sobering center or a mental health urgent care center, why can’t a highly trained medical professional do the same?”
Supervisor Janice Hahn has sponsored the new bill, hoping to give EMTs more options that better serve the individual. Hahn states,
“Our mental health urgent care centers and the sobering center at Skid Row were designed to provide humane, compassionate care, tailored to meet the needs of their patients,”
In cases involving law enforcement, this option allows police to choose specialized facilities instead of booking people in jail. This allows for people who may be dealing with alcohol, drugs or mental health issues to sober up and receive on-the-spot treatment without facing charges. According to Hahn, California paramedics and EMTs have their hands tied, and it is impacting hospitals and individuals.
Assembly Bill 1795
The new legislation is Assembly Bill 1795. This proposal would allow local emergency medical services agencies to lay out plans for transporting patients to:
- Designated behavioral health facilities
- Sobering centers that meet specific standards
Keep in mind, these patients will have to meet specific criteria in order to qualify. The bills recently amended language also states:
The bill would authorize a city, county, or city and county to designate, and contract with, a sobering center to receive patients, and would establish sobering center standards.
However, the bills current language also states that patients can instruct EMTs to take them to the emergency room and that it does not authorize them to initiate an involuntary detention of the patient.
This legislation also has support from Assemblyman Mike Gipson. He wrote an op-ed in February for the Compton Herald to support the measure. Gipson states,
“No one will deny that our emergency rooms are drastically over-crowded. Although they may be well-equipped to handle trauma, disasters or emergency physical health conditions—they are not as well-equipped to serve patients who have mental health care needs or substance abuse problems.”
Recently, Hahn herself planned a trip to Sacramento to advocate for the bill. And she isn’t the only one getting behind it. The bill is also co-sponsored by:
- Los Angeles County
- California Hospital Association
- California Ambulance Association
Another supporter of the proposal is Mitch Katz, the director of the county’s Department of Health Services. Katz points out that not only could this give EMTs the power to take patients to a more suitable facility, but that these options can also be much less expensive than taking patients to an emergency room.
While hospitals, EMTs and paramedics are a crucial part of saving lives in cases of overdose and other emergencies, when it comes to getting people a means to effective treatment unique to their needs, there are better options. Giving EMTs a resource to offer substance abuse and mental health treatment options could make a huge difference in the fight against addiction. Anything that connects people with effective treatment is an important step in the right direction.
We want to hear what you think- should EMTs take patients to sobering centers and/or mental health clinics?
Communities in many other parts of the country have begun to work on better ways to connect people struggling with substance abuse or mental health conditions with specialized treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
The Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) resigned last week, only a day after a POLITICO report was released stating that she had purchased stock in the tobacco industry after taking the position. The move has garnered a lot of public attention recently, as many view it as a glaring conflict of interest for someone in such an important position.
Conflicting with CDC Mission
When Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald took the position as Director of the CDC, she should have known that tobacco is one of the very drugs she is supposed to be fighting against. The slogan of the CDC is:
“24/7: Saving Lives, Protecting People.”
To many, this is in direct opposition to the tobacco industry, with cigarette smoking being the leading cause of preventable death in America. This year alone cigarettes will result in the deaths of approximately half a million Americans. So how could someone in charge of an organization that is supposed to save people invest in something that kills so many?
Before taking office, Fitzgerald owned stock in tobacco companies:
According to the initial report that was released last Tuesday, Fitzgerald purchased “tens of thousands of dollars in new stock holdings in at least a dozen companies,” including one of the largest tobacco companies in the entire world, Japan Tobacco. So before getting rid of a lot of these assets in October, she had her hand in 4 out of the “Big Five” tobacco companies in the world.
As if that were not suspicious enough, the very next day after purchasing these stocks, Fitzgerald reportedly took a tour of the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory. This is the entity that researches the harms of tobacco’s chemicals on human health. Then, almost as if to add insult to injury, news outlets have looked back to Fitzgerald’s statement in November when she said,
“Too many Americans are harmed by cigarette smoking, which is the nation’s leading preventable cause of death and disease.”
She then vowed to “continue to use proven strategies to help smokers quit and to prevent children from using any tobacco products.”
For someone with such substantial monetary involvement in tobacco companies’ interests, it wouldn’t be very beneficial for her to follow through on her promise to fight the use of tobacco products, would it?
According to the Wall Street Journal, Fitzgerald claims that she did not make the investments herself. She says the stocks were purchased by someone working for her investment manager, and that she directed them to sell the stocks when she did find out about the purchase.
Stocks and Scandals
Dr. Fitzgerald is definitely not the only official to be facing backlash for investments that seem to be in conflict with their official responsibilities. While executive branch employees are forbidden to work on issues in which they have a financial interest, members of Congress don’t play by the same rules.
Lawmakers are allowed to write and vote on bills that would impact themselves financially. They are required to disclose their financial positions and report when the assets are bought and sold. This includes holdings of their spouse and dependent children. But when you take a close look at some of these instances, it is kind of rattling.
Last month, Democratic Senator Patty Murray had claimed Fitzgerald’s ability to perform her role was hindered by conflicts of interest. And yet, when Murray was the top Democrat on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) her husband owned an account with a manager who bought and sold stock in Reynolds American, another tobacco company.
Aides to Senator Murray state,
“The disclosure form shows the liquidation of an account managed by a broker without guidance.”
Even the most senior Republican in the Senate, Orrin Hatch from Utah, who is also a member of the HELP committee, owned stock in Marlboro manufacturer Philip Morris International. In late 2012 Hatch was a joint owner with between $15,001 and $50,000 of stock in Philip Morris.
Fitzgerald had also recently procured stocks in two Big Pharma giants, Merck and Bayer. While the CDC does not regulate the pharmaceutical industry, their recommendations and policies do have an impact on drug manufacturers.
To be fair, there is no evidence thus far that Fitzgerald has committed any wrongdoing; there is no indication her financial ties influenced her leadership, and she has denied she was aware of the purchases being made in her name. The same goes for Murray and Hatch.
However, the fact that this shake-up is making headlines for all the wrong reasons has some people wondering how many politicians involved in public health are using stocks to bet against healthcare getting better.
How could private investments indirectly impact other areas of healthcare, like pharmaceutical drugs or mental health and addiction treatment resources? How could the issues currently surrounding the CDC end up impacting the fight against addiction and the opioid crisis?
The CDC and other health agencies play a big part in helping fight the opioid epidemic and other serious issues pertaining to drug addiction. The more resources we have, the more chances we have of turning things around. The same goes for people trying to recover from drugs or alcohol. The more resources you have, the more chances to get better. Palm Partners Recovery Center offers personalized holistic treatment options to help you transform your life. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135