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
By now, most people are familiar with the prescription drug Xanax to some extent or another. It has been one of the most popular anti-anxiety medications for many years now, and it has also garnered some infamy throughout our current culture through music and media. Hip-hop artists, like Future in the mainstream or… wait for it… Lil Xan in the underground, have promoted the use of the prescription drug for recreational purposes. Even television shows have made seemingly flippant comments about using the now-notorious medication to take the edge off.
Xanny bars are commonly characterized today as chill-pills, just like amphetamines were promoted in the 60s as “uppers” for the guy or gal on the go. The same can be said about other name brand benzodiazepine medications, such as:
But do people really understand how hard Xanax hits the brain and hurts the body?
Xanax on the Brain and Body
To get caught up to speed, Xanax is a brand name for alprazolam. This is one medication included in a group of drugs known as benzodiazepines, or benzos. Benzodiazepines are typically prescribed for anxiety.
Like all drugs taken orally, it’s absorbed into the body through the stomach. The drug passes through the mucous membrane and enters the liver. Finally, in the bloodstream, it makes its way to the brain. Now for those who don’t know, the blood-brain barrier is a membrane that filters out dangerous substances. It is built in to protect us. However, drugs like benzodiazepines are able to pass through this barrier. That is how they are meant to work.
Benzodiazepines work on parts of the brain known as GABA-A receptors. GABA-A receptors are responsible for producing sedative effects. They are naturally switched on by chemicals used to carry messages around the brain. Those chemicals are called neurotransmitters.
GABA-A receptors are switched on by the GABA neurotransmitter. This is a chemical that creates a calming effect.
Benzodiazepines are agonists, meaning they amplify the GABA-A receptors’ effects. They attach themselves to the GABA-A receptors and increasing the effectiveness of the GABA neurotransmitter. Taking Xanax activates that GABA-A receptor and kicks it into overdrive.
Now none of this is inherently wrong. In fact, doctors typically prescribe Xanax to treat anxiety, which can be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. In those cases, the effects created by Xanax in the brain actually correct an imbalance. Dr. Cathy Montgomery, reader in psychopharmacology at Liverpool John Moores University, says:
“If somebody’s experiencing high levels of anxiety, they have an increase in chemicals like adrenaline, which would normally make you feel more alert and awake, and a deficiency in GABA. High levels of adrenaline and low levels of GABA have a double impact of increased excitation in the brain, which people experience as anxiety. When they take Xanax, they won’t necessarily get the same type of heavy sedative effect.”
So in essence, Xanax does have a job to do. The issue is, so many people found out what a thorough job it does and decided it could be taken advantage of. Use of Xanax without the imbalance in the brain to cause that heavy sedative effect is what recreational users are looking for. Actually, using Xanax for recreation creates a self-inflicted imbalance in the brain. This creates a lot of issues because the body will try to preserve the balance, which only sets things up to get worse in the long run. Montgomery states:
“Whatever you take, your brain will try to regulate it. It may release adrenaline to try and combat this,”
So while your brain might fight back by releasing adrenaline, you won’t feel it until the effects of the drug wear off. The body takes several days to completely release the drug, even if noticeable effects will wear off after a few hours. The drug first detaches itself from the GABA-A receptors in your brain. Liver enzymes break it down, and eventually, the body gets rid of it.
How It Hurts
The issues can start to take shape once the drug detaches from your brain’s receptors. Like we said before, the effects will start to wear off, and the brain will still be trying to maintain its equilibrium. That self-inflicted imbalance we talked about then suddenly becomes a devastating crash. A sudden increase in brain activity finally breaks through the fog when the Xanax is gone, which can cause feelings of anxiety, agitation, insomnia, even terror.
Xanax use can actually create a cycle of dependency very quickly because while they may not have experienced anxiety before taking the drug, they have created it through the imbalance in the brain that may cause them to seek more of the drug. Before you know it, you are self-medicating to treat these symptoms, which are actually withdrawals created by the drug.
For those who use this medication for sedative effects, another issue presents itself. Benzodiazepines are supposed to be prescribed for a short time. To feel the same effects, people find they have to use larger and larger doses. And taking large doses for sustained periods of time can actually cause the body to stockpile significant withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawals aren’t just painful, they are extremely dangerous.
Xanax withdrawal symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Muscle aches
- Tension in the jaw and/or teeth pain
- Numbness in fingers
- Tingling in limbs
- Sensitivity to light and sound
- Alteration in sense of smell
- Loss of appetite
- Heart palpitations
- Impaired respiration
Stopping the use of these drugs abruptly has been known to cause seizures, and detoxing without medical assistance can even be lethal.
You don’t have to use Xanax for an extended period to experience withdrawals. Some people with prescriptions have even reported to feeling withdrawals between doses. Repeated use can lead to withdrawal symptoms in a very short amount of time. Another issue we find is that GABA-A receptors are concentrated in an area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is important for memory and is believed to be the reason why these drugs can cause blackouts.
Xanax becomes even more dangerous when combined with other substances, such as alcohol or opioids. Not only can combining these drugs be harmful to the body, they can actually be life-threatening. Often overdoses involved benzodiazepines like Xanax occur when the drug is used along with other substances that have a compounding effect, such as alcohol or opioids. The drugs react to one another and cause more severe reactions in the brain and the body.
While anti-anxiety medications can be useful for those who suffer due to an imbalance in the brain, everyone should be aware of the risks associated with Xanax and similar substances. Dependence to this drug can be incredibly hazardous, and discontinuing use should always be done with the utmost caution and with medical assistance. No one should try to stop abruptly without consulting a medical professional, and for those who struggle with substance abuse, there is help.
If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call Palm Partners Recovery Center toll-free now. You are not alone.
CALL NOW 1-800-951-6135
Why are more kids than ever before overdosing on ADHD drugs in America?
Did you know that the number of U.S. children unnecessarily exposed to powerful medications meant to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has gone through the roof over the past few years? In fact, over a 15-year period, unnecessary exposure to ADHD drugs has increased by more than 60% according to reports!
Study on ADHD Drug Exposure
Recently there was a report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics on ADHD drug exposure and reports to poison control centers indicate:
- In the year 2000, there were 7,018 calls to poison control centers related to an ADHD drug
- In 2014, there were 11,486 calls to poison control centers related to an ADHD drug
The study defines “exposure” to an ADHD drug as “unnecessary ingestions, inhalation or absorption” of ADHD medications. This includes when the exposure to the drug is both accidental and on purpose.
The study examined data from approximately 156,000 poison center calls made over the course of 15 years. Another disturbing aspect of the data they collected showed:
- 82% of the calls were “unintentional exposure”
- 18% were “intentional exposure”
When taking a closer look at the ADHD drug exposure statistics, the researchers focused in on four of the most common medications used to treat ADHD, including:
Ritalin was the ADHD drug with the highest number of exposures.
One of the lead authors of the study is Dr. Gary Smith. When discussing the conclusions made during the study, Smith states:
“What we found is that, overall, during that 15 years, there was about a 60% increase in the number of individuals exposed and calls reported to poison control centers regarding these medications.”
Smith also concludes that one of the more troublesome findings in the study is the severity of the exposures among the adolescents due to intentional exposure. So essentially, 18% of the calls coming into poison centers concerning an ADHD drug were due to kids taking the medications on purpose.
The study also compared these medications across three different age groups:
- 0-5 years
- 6-12 years
- 13-19 years
In the 0-5 year age group, they discovered that unintentional exposure was due to “exploratory behaviors”. However, with children 6-12 years old, exposure was due to:
- “Therapeutic errors”
- “Accidentally taking multiple pills”
Sadly, among the group 13-19 years old, more than 50% of exposures to an ADHD drug were intentional. Researchers note that many teenagers will use these stimulants because.
Even worse is, of all the poison center calls, around 10% resulted in a serious medical outcome. 10% may not seem like a lot, in regards to poisoning from medications any number is too many.
Ups and Downs
Smith did note that there were some ups and downs in the trends concerning ADHD and complications from the medications. For instance, the study notes:
- Between 2000 and 2011- ADHD drug exposures increased by 71%
- Between 2011 and 2014- ADHD drug exposures dropped by 6.2%
It is unclear why there was this decrease in ADHD drug exposure rates. However, some believe it may be due to the fact that warnings from the FDA about the adverse side-effects of ADHD medications could play a big part in it.
Another thing that stands out about this study is that we have also seen a steady increase in the rate of ADHD diagnosis. Case in point, according to new reports:
- 14% of all American children were diagnosed with ADHD in 2014
- Between 2005 and 2014 the number of ADHD diagnoses more than doubled
While it is important to note that these medications can be helpful for some, they can also be extremely dangerous. According to Dr. Benjamin Shain of NorthShore University HealthSystem and the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine,
“Adverse effects of taking too much stimulant medication include fast heart rate, increased blood pressure, tremors, and agitation. Worse case scenarios include schizophrenic-like psychosis, heart attack, stroke, seizures and death,”
Shain adds that adverse effects are the same if you do or do not have ADHD, or if you take too much of the medication. So people who are prescribed an ADHD drug still run the risk of suffering through some of these side-effects.
Making Safer Choices
At the end of the day, it is all about making safer choices for yourself or your loved one. When it comes to treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, there are other important elements. Various therapies can be helpful in creating a more comprehensive treatment plan, such as:
Ironically, these same therapies are also extremely helpful for those who may find themselves abusing these kinds of prescription medications. People suffering from substance use disorder can benefit greatly from these opportunities.
Because these ADHD drugs are stimulants, they also have a tendency to be abused. Either by those with a medical prescription who use too much of the drug or by those with no medical need who use them for the feelings of energy and focus they get. Again, in the case of prescription stimulant abuse, the beginning of a path to recovery means making safer choices. One of the best choices you can make is to seek professional and effective treatment options.
Palm Partners Recovery Center believes in providing innovative and personalized treatment options to anyone battling with substance abuse or addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling, please call toll-free now.
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