Correspondence has played a role in addiction treatment for centuries. In the digital age, the ability to easily find and connect with like-minded individuals has seen the emergence of online communities dedicated to information sharing, harm-reduction strategies, and recovery.
Reddit, Facebook groups, Discord channels, chatrooms, and other forums can provide a valuable, no-cost support group for those struggling with the use of opioids.
However, they can also be used to access controlled substances, spread misinformation, and promote increasingly harmful substance abuse.
Treatment specialists, parents, teachers, and others need to be aware of the potential of online forums to both help and harm those with substance use disorder.
Online Support Forums & The Opioid Epidemic
- 2000: the first wave of the opioid epidemic resulting from large scale misuse of oxycodone (OxyContin) and other prescription painkillers like codeine, hydromorphone, and hydrocodone
- 2010: the start of a transition from prescription opioid overdoses to drug overdose deaths related to illicit heroin use
- 2013: a rise in overdose deaths due to the increasing prevalence of deadly synthetic opioids like fentanyl, imported from overseas drug labs
Today r/opiates is one of the most prominent opioid support forums online, and describes itself as a safe place to share harm reduction information, find resources, and help support others.
In this way, online communities mirror the group sessions found in professional treatment centers and even go further, as forum users work together to:
- identify and provide warnings related to contaminated drug supplies
- share harm reduction strategies, such as the importance of keeping naloxone on-hand
- provide encouragement for those working through withdrawal symptoms or struggling to stay clean
- share new strategies or promote the proper use of medications including methadone, buprenorphine, or suboxone
- and memorialize loved ones who die as a result of drug use
Going Digital During COVID-19
Over a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, these open forums are busier than ever and have been joined by digital outreach programs hosted by health care centers and mental health or addiction professionals.
Many of these providers have expressed excitement at their newfound ability to connect with dozens or hundreds of vulnerable individuals across the world, and distress that one of the side effects of the Covid-19 pandemic does appear to be a new surge in illicit opioid use.
The Dark Side Of Public Drug Forums
Unfortunately, the ability to share information related to drug abuse cuts both ways.
Many of the same individuals who use harm reduction forums also use platforms (or sometimes even the same forums) to connect with drug dealers, purchase drugs, or access information or misinformation related to increasingly dangerous forms of drug abuse.
While drug-abuse forums may be helpful in many cases, they can also be used to cause great harm.
Ark Behavioral Health
If you or a loved one is interested in receiving professional care for opioid use disorder, please contact us today.