Social media sites need to do more to fight drugs

Published 12:40 pm Monday, November 4, 2019

By Kathy Sargeant

Guest Columnist

Social media platforms are innovative ways for Americans to connect. We join groups to communicate with neighbors, we receive and discuss crucial information regarding public safety issues, and we spend billions on products through these same platforms.

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We are only scratching the surface of the roles that social media websites will continue to play in our lives. As that influence grows, we need leaders in this country to step up and ensure that their platforms are safe.

One area of concern is the fact that there are increasing numbers of cases where drug dealers are using Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as an easy marketplace to distribute counterfeit, prescription and illicit drugs. Our own FDA has stated that social media companies are not doing enough to combat the problem. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said internet firms “simply aren’t taking practical steps to find and remove these illegal opioid listings.”

As a retired nurse, these words give me great pause because I know how powerful these illicit drugs are. I also worry about non-opioid prescription drugs being sold outside of the FDA oversight process that protects patients from contaminated or unsafe medicines.

There are widespread reports of drug dealers avoiding detection by taking a picture of the drugs with a description written on a note card. The picture makes it hard to detect the message as an image.

As if our local law enforcement agencies here in Kentucky did not have enough to worry about, we are seeing street pushers increase their reach by using the internet and social media as their hot new markets.

Certain social media platforms lack protocol to prevent this type of activity from happening. Others have made passive attempts at stopping sales. Some are using free speech as an excuse for not addressing the problem.

While internet freedom is important, regulations that ensure safety of users is important as well. Every day, these companies work to flag and remove hate speech and pornography. They even find time to monitor political advertising to ensure it is complying with American election law. Surely, they can prioritize stopping the sale of drugs on their platforms.

Soon, Congress will hold hearings to examine legislative solutions compel the big tech companies to take real action to stop the flow of drugs online. Luckily for Kentucky, we have a great representation, especially in the second congressional district in Congressman Brett Guthrie. He has been a great advocate, using his seat and influence on the House Energy & Commerce to look out for central Kentucky.

It’s high time all of Washington focuses their attention on this problem. Americans should be able to trust that the that social media companies aren’t turning a blind eye, but that will only happen if government turns up the pressure.

Kentucky has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. We should not have to worry about social media websites being the newest trading post for these harmful and deadly substances.

Our laws must evolve to protect Americans who want to see social media grow in the right direction.

Kathy Sargeant is a retired nurse and serves as chairwoman of the Hardin County Republican Party.