Facebook slammed for Rx drug sales; investigation

Facebook has come under fire for allowing the illegal sale of prescription drugs on the social networking site.

The revelation comes as a result of a Sky News investigation, which discovered that prescription drugs including anti-anxiety meds Valium and Xanax, anti-anxiety and epilepsy treatment pregabalin, as well as opioids, were available for purchase through the site without a prescription.

Photos of the drugs were found to be posted on the social networking site, with transactions taking place in the private messages section. Many of the drugs are sent from overseas, Sky News found, and while there is no word on whether the medicines are falsified it seems a distinct possibility.

According to Facebook's Community Standards, it "prohibits any attempts by unauthorised dealers to purchase, sell or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms or ammunition", as well as prohibiting the use of Facebook to "facilitate or organise criminal activity".

The broadcaster claimed it alerted Facebook to the illegal accounts but that the accounts were not taken down.

Sky News initially used Facebook's tools to report the illegal accounts but received this message from the social media's support department saying: "We've looked over the profile you reported, and although it doesn't go against any of our specific Community Standards, we understand that the profile or something the person shared may still be offensive to you."

It was only on approaching Facebook's press office for an explanation as to why the accounts didn't breach the social network's community standards when they broke British law that the accounts were removed.

Facebook declined to be interviewed by the news outlet, but sent a statement to the broadcaster stating: "Buying, selling, or trading prescription drugs isn't allowed on Facebook and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they come across this kind of activity, so we can investigate and take swift action. We're grateful to Sky News for flagging this content to us and have removed the pages for breaking our standards."

Despite Facebook removing the accounts in question, Sky News said it had been able to find "dozens" of other accounts on the site that were peddling prescription drugs, as well as accounts selling recreational drugs including ketamine, cannabis and MDMA.

The broadcaster spoke to a Cameroon-based dealer who had been selling prescription drugs via Facebook for three or four years. He said it was "easier" to sell through Facebook and had never been caught or reprimanded.

Sky News did not report the potential danger that prescription drugs bought over Facebook could be fake or of dubious quality.

In 2015, regulators in the UK warned that social media sites including Facebook and Twitter were allowing the proliferation of a counterfeit drugs market. Mark Jackson, head of intelligence at the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), told the Telegraph at the time: "There is no doubt social media provides fantastic span if you're trying to sell a product, whether legitimately or illegitimately, and equally it provides a great deal of anonymity if you are doing something illegal."

In May this year, NBC News in the US reported that patients were turning to Facebook to access medicines, such as insulin, when their insurance ran out. According to the broadcaster, the deals – including drugs in exchange for cash or trading drugs for others – occurred through dedicated Facebook groups that required moderator approval to join.

Meanwhile, reports last year suggest that Facebook is looking to court the pharmaceutical industry in the US in a bid to access some of the industry's advertising bucks through more pharma-friendly promotional options, such as sponsored community pages for patients with a particular medical condition.

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