Tech & Science

Instagram will use hashtags to support people struggling with opioid abuse

A new feature in the app will surface alerts with links to information about recovery and treatment services when users search for hashtags related to opioids as well as other illegal drugs.

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The feature is available now in the United States and will roll out to users in the rest of the world "soon," the company says.

Previously, Instagram has blocked many hashtags related to opioids and other drugs. Though the app's rules prohibit people from buying or selling prescription and illegal drugs on its service, that hasn't stopped people from trying, and the company has blocked or limited the visibility or certain hashtags when it detects misuse. But not every opioid-related hashtag is automatically blocked.

According to Instagram, that's because many people use the hashtags to find and offer support to those affected by the ongoing opioid crisis. The new in-app notifications are meant to further that type of support, the company says.

"People from all over the world use hashtags, comments, and more to offer support and find communities who understand the issues they may be struggling with," Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, said in a statement. "The opioid epidemic is an issue that affects millions of people, and we want to use our platform to offer resources to those who need it – in the places where they are seeking help."

Now, searching for hashtags like #opioids or #uppers will first trigger an alert, letting you know that you can "get support" instead of viewing the posts associated with that hashtag. Instagram isn't saying exactly how many hashtags will be covered by the new feature, but it does plan to add more over time.

If you do opt for support, you'll be directed to a new section in Instagram's Help Centre, which has links to free treatment referrals, as well as other information about substance abuse and recovery. Instagram partnered with a number of organizations, including Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the NCADD, and the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, in order to provide the information.

This isn't the first time Instagram has sought to provide in-app help around specific hashtags. The app previously rolled out a similar feature for users who search for hashtags related to self-injury and eating disorders. The feature, introduced in 2016, displays a warning message, along with the option to find helplines and other resources.

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