Dr. Scott Gottlieb: Tech is part of the nation's opioid problem — 5 takeaways

Tech companies need to be more vigilant in monitoring the ways illegal opioid sales are advertised on their platforms, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a speech April 4 at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.

Here are five takeaways from his address.

1. The FDA has investigators looking into operations on the internet and across the dark web, where illegal opioid prescriptions and other drugs are sold in cryptocurrency or with credit cards and shipped through the U.S. postal service.

2. "The investigators used payment information to identify more than 500 financial transactions totaling $230,000 linked to 300 individuals in 43 states. The Subcommittee was even able to identify seven individuals who died from fentanyl overdoses after sending money and receiving packages from online sellers," Dr. Gottlieb said.

3. The agency found ways to purchase opioids across multiple websites and social media networks. Dr. Gottlieb specifically called out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, Google, Yahoo and Bing as contributors to the problem.

4. Dr. Gottlieb doesn't think internet firms and social media sites are taking practical steps to remove these illegal opioid listings, such as the policing efforts they've deployed against child pornography.

5. "[W]hen it comes to opioids, we haven't seen meaningful, voluntary actions. Yet the magnitude of the public health emergency presented by the opioid crisis requires a change in mindset among Internet companies and the adoption of a more responsible, collective approach to eliminating illegal opioid distribution via the Internet," he said. "We want to work collaboratively with these firms to organize this action. We trust that the leaders of these firms share our concerns when it comes to this public health crisis. We hope they'll join our effort."

The FDA is planning a summit meeting with CEOs and other key leaders of internet stakeholders to discuss solutions, which may include modifying algorithms or increasing the availability of information about opioid abuse treatment.

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