Opioid addiction and abuse is an immense public health crisis and addressing it is one of the FDA’s highest priorities. In 2019, an average of 38 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, totaling more than 14,000 deaths. Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the number of overdose deaths rose to 93,331 in the 12-month period ending in December 2020. This number is the highest ever recorded for overdose deaths in a 12-month period. Opioids were involved in approximately 75% of these deaths. Despite the tremendous health risks associated with opioids illegally being sold online and the successes we have seen to limit online opioid distribution, we continue to see websites and online platforms that make it far too easy for U.S. consumers to purchase these dangerous products.
One critical step to address this public health emergency is the adoption of a far more proactive approach by internet stakeholders to crack down on internet traffic in illicit drugs. Illegal online pharmacies, drug dealers, and other criminals are increasingly using the internet to further their illicit distribution of opioids, where their risk of detection and repercussions is significantly reduced.
Given the severity of the public health emergency we are facing, in June 2018, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., invited internet stakeholders, government entities, academic researchers, and advocacy groups to attend the first Online Opioid Summit to discuss ways to collaboratively take stronger action in combatting the opioid crisis by reducing the availability of illicit opioids online.
Summaries and Agendas for Past Summits
FDA hosted its fourth summit on June 8, 2023, as an integral part of FDA’s overall efforts to protect the public, including youth, from harm associated with drugs that have abuse potential. Summit attendees from the public and private sector, including those from the internet ecosystem, academia, and regulatory organizations, gathered to discuss these challenges and develop strategic and effective solutions. In recent years, illicit opioids, largely driven by fentanyl and its analogues, have become key contributors to the overdose crisis. Other controlled substances, including benzodiazepines and stimulants (specifically methamphetamine), are also being used simultaneously with opioids. Therefore, FDA expanded the scope of this summit to include the illegal availability of other controlled substances online, in addition to opioids.
FDA virtually hosted its third summit on September 9, 2021, to continue to enhance collaboration to maximize the scope of our efforts to address the illegal availability of opioids online. The focus of the summit was enhancing collaboration with internet stakeholders, government entities, academia, and other important partners. Discussions at the summit highlighted successes since previous summits and discussed new ways to continue to combat the online component of the opioid crisis. This meeting was a closed session.
FDA hosted a second summit on April 2, 2019, to continue building upon our successes and finding innovative solutions to protect the American public from opioids that are illegally being offered for sale online. The focus of the summit was collaboration with registries and registrars. Since these entities play a role in the registration of internet domain names, they are a critical part of the solution. This meeting was a closed session.
Invitations were sent to stakeholders who have the ability to make the most significant impact on reducing illegal online opioid sales and contribute to transformational changes in this space. Invitees include senior executives from major search engines, social media platforms, domain name registries and registrars, online marketplaces as well as advocacy groups, other government agencies, and academic researchers with expertise in this topic.
Internet stakeholders and other professionals involved in preventing illegal online opioid sales may contact FDA by emailing FDA Internet Pharmacy Task Force.