Our Government Is Now Monitoring Our Drug Use via Social Media
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Our Government Is Now Monitoring Our Drug Use via Social Media


Apparently Drug Talk Has Gone from the DL to the DM

Soon, the US government will know what drugs are popular, how people are using them and where to find them via a new monitoring system called The National Drug Early Warning System (NDEWS), which is currently in development by the US National Institute of Health. An article in International Business Times explains that the system will scan social media and other websites for emerging trends in designer synthetic drugs—what the drug is, what the drug does, where to score, even code names—because that is, apparently, how drug dealers and blossoming teenage addicts exchange information. Really?

Call me old-fashioned—and you should because social media was barely in its infancy when I got sober—but it’s hard for me to imagine anyone, even high school kids, DM-ing about drug deals. Back in my day (harrumph), we were even paranoid about using obscure code to discuss anything drug related over a landline. Everyone had seen Goodfellas and was well aware of FBI wiretaps. We knew that just because we were juniors in high school making calls from our parents’ home phones in the upper-middle class suburb of Newton, MA, that didn’t exempt us from the long arm of the law. And when cell phones went viral in 1999, you can just forget it—we were convinced that anyone who dared to ask, “You down to party tonight?” would immediately be hung up on a la Eric Stoltz in Pulp Fiction.

Big Brother Is following You on Twitter

But who am I to say what and how much information is being exchanged in code on Snapchat? All I know is that Big Brother has proudly announced they will be monitoring all of us for suspicious activity. Still, what do they plan to do with this information? Okay, so via Facebook, we know that kids in Mishawaka, IN are smoking a ton of crystal meth—now what? Are they going to send out a SWAT team to bust down the plywood door of every trailer in a 100-mile radius? That could take a while.

It Will Help Measure Supply and Demand

According to the article, data from NDEWS will be used to help law enforcement and public health providers be better prepared for rapid response treatment—the way the NYPD equipped 20,000 of their officers with naloxone, the opioid overdose rescue pen—and this seems valid but hardly enough of a reason to invent a large scale computer system that violates people’s privacy. I am not a 1st Amendment Nazi but a system like this being used just to collect data and not create persons of interest based on a Twitter feed seems unlikely. But I guess if you are stupid enough to post pics of you popping Oxy, then I say you deserve to get caught.

But Will It Help Nip It in the Bud?

Director for the US National Institute of Health, Dr. Nora Volkow, says that she hopes NDEWS will help arrest emerging drug problems and prevent them from spreading. I am not sure how they plan to do that, by upping the drug education in the area? By making an example of some guy who stupidly decided to “check in” at a 7-Eleven and then Instagram a photo of his new baggie of black tar heroin? Knowing the scope of our country’s drug problem is definitely good information to have but I am just not clear on how digging through social media accounts is going to do that in any accurate or concrete way.

But Wait, There’s More

In conjunction withNDEWS, some pharmaceutical companies are working hard to develop more and better abuse-deterrent medications like Antabuse, the alcohol antagonist medication that makes you vomit if mixed with booze, and Naltrexone (now in implant form), which helps block the euphoric effects of opiates. As a recovering alcoholic who “did it the hard way,” I am secretly resentful that anyone thinks they can take a pill and make their addiction go away. But on a human level, I like the idea of evolving treatments for addiction that may save the lives of people I love. I just worry that seemingly easy fix solutions, like BioCorRx Inc.’s Start Fresh Program, will undermine consequences for an impressionable teenager thinking about throwing caution to the wind.

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About Author

Danielle Stewart is a Los Angeles-based writer and recovering comedian. She has written for Showtime, E!, and MTV, as well as print publications such as Us Weekly and Life & Style Magazine. She returned to school and is currently working her way towards a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. She loves coffee, Law & Order SVU, and her emotional support dog, Benson.