Powerful and addictive prescription drugs are illegally being offered for sale on Facebook, a Sky News investigation has discovered.
And the US social media giant has been refusing to remove accounts even when users have reported them.
Drugs including Valium, Xanax and Pregabalin, an increasingly popular sedative linked to several deaths in the UK, were on offer. Opioids responsible in the USA for a huge rise in drug abuse over recent years – were also available.
The Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) told Sky News that the availability of sedatives, tranquilisers and opioids on the platform “completely changes the game”.
Danny Lee-Frost, head of enforcement at the MHRA, told Sky News: “The sleeping pills and antidepressants are a lot more dangerous.
“People have committed suicide as the ultimate resort to try and get off them. These are fiercely addictive.”
Facebook’s own Community Standards say: “We prohibit any attempts by unauthorised dealers to purchase, sell or trade prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms or ammunition.”
And: “We prohibit the use of Facebook to facilitate or organise criminal activity.”
Sky News initially reported the accounts using Facebook’s tools. Each account was allowed to remain.
Messages from Facebook Support said: “We’ve looked over the profile you reported, and although it doesn’t go against any of our specific Community Standards, we understand that the profile or something the person shared may still be offensive to you.”
Sky News then contacted Facebook’s press office to ask why the accounts didn’t apparently breach their community standards, even though they broke British law.
After we contacted Facebook for comment, all the drug dealing profiles were removed. The company refused our request for an interview but gave us this statement:
“Buying, selling, or trading prescription drugs isn’t allowed on Facebook and we urge people to use our reporting tools if they come across this kind of activity, so we can investigate and take swift action.
“We’re grateful to Sky News for flagging this content to us and have removed the pages for breaking our standards.”
However, Sky News was still easily able to discover dozens more drug dealing accounts on the platform.
Sky News spoke with one drug dealer, based in Cameroon and sending deliveries to the UK, who said he’d been using Facebook to sell prescription drugs “for three to four years”. “It’s easier for me to work (on Facebook),” he told us.
Had he ever been in trouble with Facebook? “No, no,” he replied.
Does Facebook care? “No,” he added.
Sky News also found more traditional recreational drugs for sale, including Ketamine, cannabis and MDMA.
Mr Lee-Frost told Sky News that the rise in sedatives on the web was worrying.
“We’ve always seen anabolic steroids on the web.
“But we are now seeing a lot more sleeping tablets, seeing a lot more anti-anxieties, diazepam and benzo-diazepam, those types of products, being available.
“The sleeping pills and antidepressants are a lot more dangerous, they’re a lot more addictive.
“That’s the reason they’re prescription only.
“That changes the game completely.”
Facebook relies on its two billion users to flag illegal or inappropriate content, but the company has faced criticism for failing to remove accounts, whether for drugs, extremism or abuse.
Earlier this year, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Yvette Cooper MP, said: “Social media companies’ failure to deal with illegal and dangerous material online is a disgrace.”