After renewing the public health emergency declaration for the opioid crisis in January (now running through April) and then signing into law the Interdict Act, President Donald Trump and Congress continue to push forward in attempting to stem the tide of the opioid epidemic. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 appropriates $6 billion over two years for states to utilize in their fights. This focus was echoed by Trump in his budget proposal, which includes $13 billion dedicated specifically to combating the epidemic.
Although it’s clear that the opioid epidemic is an ongoing interest for Congress and the Trump administration, these efforts don’t necessarily encompass the entirety of the comprehensive issue at hand.
The internet is becoming a larger platform for buying and selling drugs for legitimate and legal purposes. A recent report from the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations states that “it is not difficult to find illegal drugs such as synthetic opioids advertised for sale on both the open web and the dark web” and “the internet has significantly contributed to the increased availability of deadly synthetic opioids in the United States.”
The subcommittee staff posed as first-time online fentanyl buyers, and found that not only were they able to actually purchase controlled substances online, but were also able to retain anonymity through payment methods like Bitcoin. They were offered the convenience of common payment and shipping methods as well.
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As a teenager who spends free time scrolling through social media, I have encountered Twitter accounts with links to websites promising to sell “legal and safe meds.” Cloud N9Ne Syrup — a hemp syrup that hasn’t been tested by the Food and Drug Administration for safety of its ingredients — is a product I’ve seen advertised several times on my timeline.
The internet is one of my primary platforms for communication and expressing ideas, yet my timeline is occasionally disrupted by a video of someone explaining how to order what may be illicit drugs online — claimed, of course, to be entirely legal and safe despite lack of proof.
Though finding sites that sell illicit substances online is as easy as perusing first page search engine results, those with intentions to make perfectly legal purchases online or inquire about potential options to access prescription medications can also find themselves in danger. Innocent consumers can be duped into believing they have purchased legitimate and potentially life-saving prescription drugs from an illegal online drug seller.
Buying medications online — from over-the-counter drugs to prescription-only medication like Viagra and controlled substances such as Percocet or Zyprexa — can pose a threat to consumers because of the overwhelming presence of an estimated 32,000 online pharmacies operating in violation of state and federal law or pharmacy practice standards. Some illegal sites may not require valid prescriptions, while others may ship the consumer something entirely different from what they ordered.
What is thought to be a certain type of medication can really be a counterfeit combination of other substances like fentanyl, or even potentially deadly ingredients such as arsenic, paint thinner or rat poison.
Despite the often innocuous intent of the online search, nearly 91 percent of first search results for prescription opioids across three leading platforms led users to an illegal online drug seller with the first link, according to the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies.
It’s important to realize that the problem is one that sits right in front of our faces every single day. Attention focused on stricter monitoring of what is entering our nation will help the problem, but our focus must also remain around the supply of illicit and deadly products online. The problem exists — literally — right at our fingertips.
Riley Kelley is a senior at Liberty High School. She is also an intern for the Alliance for Safe Online Pharmacies, a global nonprofit headquartered in Washington D.C.