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Gottlieb: The Internet Needs to Better Root Out Illegal Opioid Distributors

Posted 05 April 2018 | By Zachary Brennan 

Gottlieb: The Internet Needs to Better Root Out Illegal Opioid Distributors

Social media companies, internet service providers (ISPs) and others in the internet ecosystem need to be more proactive in rooting out illegal operations that distribute opioids, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Wednesday.

Citing a recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Gottlieb said investigators found more than 500 financial transactions totaling $230,000 linked to 300 individuals in 43 states. The report also identified seven individuals who died from fentanyl overdoses after sending money and receiving packages from online sellers.

“Internet firms simply aren’t taking practical steps to find and remove these illegal opioid listings. There’s ample evidence of narcotics being advertised and sold online,” Gottlieb said. “I know that Internet firms are reluctant to cross a threshold; where they could find themselves taking on a broader policing role. But these are insidious threats being propagated on these web platforms.”

The magnitude of this public health emergency “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 added.

Gottlieb also announced that FDA will soon host a summit meeting with CEOs and other senior representatives of internet companies, academics and advocacy groups to identify gaps and solutions – “like altering search algorithms to inform potential opioid purchasers to pages offering validated treatment programs, along with information about the potentially fatal risks associated with the illicit online sale of opioids.” 

The speech came on the same day that Senate and House committees unveiled draft discussion versions of bills to better address the opioids crisis. 


Editor's note: Article updated 4/5/18 with links to the Senate and House plans.

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