Reddit has become a haven for people to buy, sell, and talk about opioids. As one of the world’s largest online communities, Reddit provides a harrowing representation of the opioid crisis in America.

With more than 33,000 deaths in 2015 alone, opioids have become the main cause of drug overdose nationwide. A recent forum deleted from Reddit, known as r/opiaterollcall, has drawn attention to the thriving online opioid market.

How People Buy Drugs Online

Users new and old can sign into Reddit to find out how to get clean, or, depending on the forum, how to get high. The forums, also known as subreddits, are frequented by millions of regular users, or Redditors.

These particular Redditors visit the site for prescription drug purposes and have created a hidden system of communication, used to anonymously promote suppliers or indicate interest in making a purchase.

Symbols like plus signs and phrases like “great friend” are recognized as endorsements, whereas those searching for new drug sources will signal they are seeking nearby friends by posting their area code.

One opioid forum, r/opiaterollcall, existed on the site for four years, amassing posts from 13,000 users, according to a New York Times article. The forum was later banned by Reddit administrators, who experience difficulties keeping track of illicit subreddits.

Though posts fluctuate as users disappear without notice, oftentimes from an overdose, other subreddits create a space to share insights into the recovery process. Distinguishing the Redditors making a positive impact from those buying and selling creates a challenge.

Screengrab of Redditors buying prescription opioid drugs on Reddit

Regulating Reddit’s Opioid Presence

Reddit polices subreddits that violate its user agreement, though similar forums focused on ecstasy and cocaine still exist. Reddit representatives told the New York Times that using Reddit “as a marketplace for illegal goods and services will get users and communities banned from Reddit.”

The administrators, tasked with banning forums that may present a danger, have trouble monitoring the millions of users and posts. When one forum is deleted, another is created. On top of that, nothing stops the people who meet online from exchanging phone numbers via private message and meeting up to use opiates together.

“The opiate-buying forum that Reddit shut down last week offered a state-by-state directory where people could post their area code to show where they wanted to make a deal. Details of where and when to meet up were worked out in private messages, phone calls or texts.

Several people who use the forum said it felt safer to them than buying drugs on the street in rough parts of town,” according to the article.

Digital Access and The Opioid Epidemic

Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 Americans have died from prescription overdoses.

Reddit is just a microcosm of the prescription drug market that exists online, with more advanced communities having the ability to exchange currency digitally.  The “dark web” hosts an unknown number of digital access points, like AlphaBay, which uses the open source payment network, Bitcoin, to leave no money trail. The New York Times reports that mobile apps like Snapchat and Instagram are also used to buy and sell drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Agency is working to stop the overflow of prescription pain medication, heroin, and fentanyl from entering the market. Along with federal agency efforts, local police departments direct their focus on the largest suppliers, which reduces the fear of consequence for individual sellers who profit in internet communities.

Addiction and recovery is a fine line. By signing onto Reddit, you may catch a glimpse of the extent of the opioid epidemic in the nation.

Interested in the opioid crisis in America? Visit our page on opioids to learn more.