April 29, 2019

Big Tech Partners With DEA On Opioid Drop-Off Efforts | The Hill

Silicon Valley giants are partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in its annual effort to combat the opioid epidemic, a campaign known as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. 

Throughout the day on Saturday, participants will be able to use Google and Twitter to identify locations to drop off any prescription drugs they have at home, while Facebook runs advertisements about the effort.

The Take Back Day campaign has seen results before, with the DEA reporting last fall that it was able to collect 914,236 pounds of drugs through its campaign encouraging and facilitating drop-offs across the country. 

The DEA has been increasing its engagement with tech companies on the issue over the past several years. Twitter announced in a blog post earlier this week that it has relaunched a custom emoji for Take Back Day, an effort to bring attention to the campaign's hashtag. 

"Last year, launching the custom #TakeBackDay emoji and the corresponding hashtags helped to elevate the conversation with 50x the engagement compared to previous years," Twitter said in the post. 

Google, meanwhile, has been partnering with the DEA for several years through advertising campaigns and new features in Google Maps. The tech giant featured the Take Back Day collection site map on its homepage last year, and announced two months ago that it had improved its Google Maps and search to account for 3,500 more drug drop-off locations across the country. 

Federal agencies, state governments and local pharmacies helped Google identify thousands of drug drop-off locations where people are invited to dispose of leftover pain pills and other addictive drugs. Using Google Maps or search, users can look up phrases similar to "drug drop off near me” or “medication disposal near me" and find directions to the nearest permanent disposal locations.

The DEA told The Hill that Facebook last fall ran national newsfeed advertising, which garnered 11 million impressions between Facebook and its image-sharing platform, Instagram. 

"With additional newsfeed advertising for the April 2019 campaign, we anticipate surpassing this number," the DEA said in an emailed statement. 

Multiple lawmakers, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), have said tech companies should potentially be held legally liable for illegal opioid sales on their platforms, a move that would chip away at one of the internet's most valued legal protections — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

"Tomorrow is #TakeBackDay — a nationwide effort to combat the opioid epidemic," Google's public policy Twitter account posted on Friday. "You can take part disposing of unneeded drugs at a safe dropoff location - just search 'drug disposal near me' on @googlemaps to find a location." 

The White House has been promoting Take Back Day for days, as it has in previous years, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday touted the tech companies' efforts on opioids. 

The campaign comes this year as the president and other top Republicans have ramped up their allegations that the biggest tech companies, most prominently Google, Twitter and Facebook, are biased against conservatives. President Trump earlier in the week called Twitter "very discriminatory." 

After Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey met with Trump earlier this week, Twitter said the two had a conversation partially about the company's efforts to combat the opioid crisis. Later reporting indicated Trump had also pressed Dorsey over his perception that he is losing Twitter followers.


By:  Emily Birnbaum