With rates of illicit prescription pill use now highest among people ages 18 to 25, social media is almost exclusively the way these drugs are being sold, the New York Times reports. There were nearly 108,000 drug fatalities in the U.S. last year. Law enforcement authorities say an alarming portion of them were a result of counterfeit pills tainted with fentanyl that teenagers and young adults bought over social media. "About 90 percent of the pills that you're buying from a dealer on social media now are fentanyl," said Morgan Fire, a California district attorney. This has all led to disturbing new data: Overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death among people ages 18 to 45, ahead of suicide, traffic accidents and gun violence.
Today's suppliers use social media and messaging apps with privacy features to connect with their consumers. The platforms have made for a swift, easy conduit during the coronavirus pandemic, when demand for illicit prescription drugs has jumped, both from anxious, bored consumers and from those already struggling with addiction who were cut off from in-person group support. “There are drug sellers on every major social media platform,” said Prof. Tim Mackey of the University of California San Diego. “It’s an entire ecosystem problem: As long as your child is on one of those platforms, they’re going to have the potential to be exposed to drug sellers.” Facing heavy criticism from law enforcement and grieving parents, social media platforms have been stepping up policing on their sites, shutting down dealers’ accounts and redirecting drug seekers to addiction services. On Monday, the Ad Council announced a campaign to roll out this summer, funded by three tech companies — Snap, Meta and Google — to alert teenagers and young adults about the dangers of fentanyl.