Illegal online pharmacies are using Twitter to promote prescription drug abuse of controlled substances, a new study has found.
“This study is the first to establish an empirical link between Twitter content and illicit online pharmacies which promote the illegal sale of drugs that have significant abuse potential,” said study co-author Timothy Mackey from University of California-San Diego.
“Our results are concerning, as the study found over 45,000 tweets that promoted drug abuse even though we only looked at a two week period of tweets,” Mackey added.
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), young adults are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs.
The study conducted surveillance and content analysis of over two million tweets using the Twitterpublic streaming application programming interface and used assisted machine learning.
Tweets were analysed to determine if they discussed drug abuse issues, whether they favourably promoted drug abuse behaviour, and were also examined to see if they directly enabled the illegal access to controlled substances by online pharmacies.
Mackey said the study findings are extremely troubling.
“When we examined links included in a subset of the tweets that discussed drug abuse, we discovered that 76 percent of these tweets included a link to an online marketing affiliate advertising the sale of the controlled substance valium, a tranquilliser that is commonly abused,” he said.
Buying prescription drugs from illegal online pharmacies also endangers consumers’ financial information, putting them at risk of identity theft, according to experts.
The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR).