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Perspective: Using social media to address substance misuse and abuse: An analysis of Instagram’s “get support” feature

Perspective: Using social media to address substance misuse and abuse: An analysis of Instagram’s “get support” feature

by Jennifer Reynolds, MPH, CHES
Section Manager, ORAU Health Communication, Marketing & Training

Of the 27.1 million adults battling substance use disorders in the U.S., less than 20% receive proper treatment. Stigma is a pivotal factor keeping those in need from seeking treatment. In Communicating about Opioids in Appalachia: Challenges, Opportunities, and Best Practices, my co-authors and I recommend inundating those battling addiction with positive communication that discretely promotes treatment and recovery while reducing stigmatization.

Enter Instagram’s new “get support” feature. When users search for opioid related hashtags (e.g., #opioids, #uppers) a message appears asking if they would like to see information about substance use, prevention, treatment, and recovery. With Instagram’s user age demographics overlapping closely with those most likely to die from an opioid overdose, this is an excellent example of reaching potential opioid users while shielding them from stigma.

Unfortunately, in our tests, the pop-up didn’t show up again after the first time you select “decline” or “see posts anyway.” As not everyone is ready to “get support” or “learn more” right away, it would be great if the pop-up were shown every time a user searches for opioid-related hashtags. To build on Instagram’s effort, they could include a different affirming fact about opioid treatment each time, such as “relapse rates for addiction resemble those of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and asthma.” Additionally, we would encourage Instagram to expand their list of “opioid-related” terms that generate the pop-up based on our research that found people often don’t use the term “opioid.” They are more likely to use “pain pills” (a term that did not elicit a pop-up), or specific drug names or dosages.

Of course, getting someone battling opioid addiction into treatment is not as simple as an Instagram pop-up. Nor is abstinence-based treatment the best solution for everyone (learn about: harm reduction). But the more messages out there, the more likely someone in need will see and respond to them. We applaud Instagram’s effort to engage in the current public health crisis and hope this initial effort can be refined and expanded to most effectively reach those in need.

Interested in using Instagram or other social media to address substance misuse and abuse? ORAU’s Health Communication and Marketing group has developed social media training specifically for health departments, community-based organizations, and coalitions combatting the opioid epidemic. To learn more, contact: Jennifer Reynolds at 919.619.0403 or Jennifer.reynolds@orau.org.

Our Expert

Jennifer Reynolds

Jennifer Reynolds, M.P.H., CHES

Health Communication Section Manager

Expertise: Health communication, social marketing, social media, behavioral science research

Reynolds has more than 10 years of experience managing research, health communication and social marketing projects for federal government and nonprofit agencies.

Certification: Certified Health Education Specialist

Contact us

For information about ORAU’s health communication, preparedness and response needs, contact Marcus Weseman, M.P.A., vice president and senior associate director, Health Communication programs, at 865.576.3420 or marcus.weseman@orau.org.