Instagram becomes hot spot to deal prescription drugs

Instagram is becoming the latest hot spot to deal prescription drugs, and the app's algorithm may actually make it easier for users to find their fix.

Dr. Desmond Patton studies social media at Columbia University. "These folks are not just your street corner drug dealers," said Patton, referring to those who sell on Instagram.

Dealers use coded language and cryptic hashtags to keep their business under the radar. "They may communicate through emoji or text or picture that they're seeking drugs," said Patton.

We found someone claiming to sell in the city by searching "#160," code for a dosage of Oxycotin. He claims to have access to prescription drugs through his job and has been selling on Instagram for a couple years. "The side is a lot more lucrative than clocking in," said the self-proclaimed dealer.

The dealer said he finds customers when doctors cut them off or when pharmacy prices are too expensive. He said his regulars are probably not who you'd expect. "I'd rather deal with the soccer moms, and I'd rather deal with the officers," said the dealer. He said he also knows that he has police officers and law enforcement as clients.

Instagram is discrete and low risk. The dealer told us that the worst that can happen is that Instagram will shut down your profile, taking anywhere from an hour to a week to catch on.

He said he also deals on the dark web. "The dark net, you can literally buy people," said the dealer. "It's sad. It's sad." It's the secret corner of the internet known for its untraceable and often highly illegal transactions. "Dark net is usually the easiest, the most discrete," said the dealer.

"Most people are trying to use it to get things you can't get on the street," said Patton.

Patton said Instagram's algorithm may inadvertently help users find their fix. "It will learn your behaviors," said Patton. "Things that will pop up will be related to your previous searches on and off Instagram.

"I would say over the past 6 or 7 years, we've seen a steady increase of individuals searching for drugs, talking about drugs, expressing the need for drugs over social media," said Patton.

Instagram released the following statement to PIX 11:
“We do not allow the sale of illicit drugs on Instagram. It is against our policies to  buy, sell or trade non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs on our platform. We have been focusing on this area for some time, and we are working hard to ensure we keep illicit drug sales off Instagram, while surfacing the communities of support that help those struggling with addiction. We know we have more to do in this area, but we will continue to work with experts and invest in people and technology to keep our community safe.”