Twitter Outlined Its Efforts to Help Fight the Opioid Crisis in the US

The next Take Back Day for prescription drugs is April 27

70,237 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2017 alone Moussa81/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

Twitter outlined the steps it is taking to aid in the fight against the opioid crisis in the U.S.

Public policy manager Lauren Culbertson said in a blog post that U.S. government leaders sought Twitter’s help on this front last year, adding that in 2017, 70,237 people in the country died of drug overdoses, with almost 70% of those involving opioids—representing more fatalities than traffic accidents.

Twitter will once again team up with the Drug Enforcement Administration on Take Back Day, a biannual initiative encouraging Americans to bring prescription drugs they are no longer using for treatment to local drop-off sites, in order to prevent that medicine from being misused.

Twitter brought back its hashtag-triggered emoji for #TakeBackDay, and it is working with congressional leaders and DEA officials to raise awareness for the next Take Back Day, which is set for April 27.

Culbertson said that for the fall 2018 edition of Take Back Day, its emoji and hashtags helped boost conversation by 50 times compared with previous years, with #TakeBackDay tweets for fall 2018 tallying over 1 million impressions thanks to high-profile tweets such as this one from First Lady Melania Trump:

She also stressed that tweets offering to sell opioids and regulated drugs are removed from the platform, adding that Twitter is using its anti-spam tools more, deploying new targeted technologies related to this issue and implementing additional internal steps to enforce drug-related-content portions of the Twitter rules.

Culbertson said more than 17,000 tweets have been removed worldwide since mid-2018 for violations of this type—including credit-card and diet-pill scams—adding that the social network consulted researchers from institutions, government officials and law enforcement during that process.

Twitter plans to update its rules on this topic in the next few weeks in order to make them shorter and easier for people to understand.

Culbertson cited a recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University, which found that 2.5 million U.S. adults in recovery use online technology in their efforts, and interventions via online technologies have helped them along.

She also mentioned that Twitter has taken steps including the donation of advertising via its #AdsForGood program and marking #RecoveryMonth in September by inviting participation by government leaders, nongovernmental organizations, advocates and recovering drug users.

Twitter hosted events at its office in Washington, D.C., last year, with guests including U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, members of Congress, Young People in Recovery president and CEO Justin Luke Riley and Substance Abuse Disorders Institute recovery scientist Robert Ashford.

The company took part in the Food and Drug Administration’s Online Opioid Summit last year, committing to take stronger action against illegal drug sales via its platform, and it updated its progress at a follow-up event at the FDA earlier this month.

The social network has also worked on best practices for using its platform with nonprofits including Lily’s Place and The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids.

Last November, Twitter and other industry peers co-hosted an event with The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, which featured Dopesick author Beth Macy and representatives from the National Institutes of Health, and the social network participated in a panel on how the tech industry can fight the opioid crisis.

Finally, in its headquarters city of San Francisco, Twitter is teaming up with organizations working toward a multifaceted approach to address the crisis: the Saint Francis Foundation, the Harm Reduction Coalition, Glide, the Tenderloin Community Benefit District and Gubbio Project. And the social network will keynote Young People in Recovery’s 2019 conference.

Culbertson concluded, “We will continue to invest in tools and technology to improve the health of the conversation on Twitter, as well as build on our efforts with outside partners to ensure that Twitter is doing its part to help those with substance use disorders connect to recovery communities.” David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.