WASHINGTON — Facebook users attempting to purchase opioids or seeking out addiction treatment will be instead be redirected to information about a federal crisis help line, the company announced Tuesday, a major step for an industry leader facing pressure to more aggressively police illicit drug sales on its platform.
The announcement comes a week before an “opioids summit” convened by the Food and Drug Administration to get Facebook and other tech companies, including Twitter and Google, to take additional measures to help curb the nation’s opioid crisis.
The Facebook feature, the company said, is the result of months of work with a policy team largely focused on how the company can address the opioid epidemic — work that it said predates FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s focus on tech companies’ role in opioids issues.
Kevin Martin, who leads Facebook’s operation in Washington, announced the new feature at a Tuesday event, and the company recently added Avra Siegel, an Obama administration veteran, to lead the opioids policy initiative.
Siegel said the redirect feature — which will go live at some point Tuesday — was specific to Facebook, but planned in consultation with the recovery advocacy group Facing Addiction and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Greg Williams, the vice president at Facing Addiction, said Facebook aimed to seize on moments of vulnerability — searches either for treatment or for opportunities to purchase illicit drugs — to nudge individuals with opioid use disorder toward treatment.
Facebook’s efforts to stem the opioid epidemic come as part of a broader conversation about how much responsibility tech companies bear for illicit activity to take place on their platforms.