Social media big data could provide information on fighting prescription drug addiction

Researchers from Dartmouth, Stanford University and IBM Research have conducted a review of literature to evaluate the feasibility of using social media data to identify behavioral patterns of prescription drug abuse. Findings are published in Journal of Medical Internet Research.

"Harnessing social media platforms and data can provide insight into important novel discoveries of collective public health risk behavior, a better understanding of peoples' struggles with addiction, and their process of recovery," said lead author, Sunny Jung Kim, PhD, an e-health communication scholar in the departments of biomedical data science and psychiatry at Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine. "I started this project because there were few studies about why people use social networking sites to share unsolicited, highly personal information about their drug use, nor about the psychological effects or consequences of this type of user-generated communication.”

Prescription drug addiction rates have grown exponentially in recent years. Many people with these addictions are unable to receive care, so some turn to support groups through social media. In this study, researchers reviewed big data generated by social media platforms regarding personal communication and activities to develop improved public health strategies for prescription drug addiction.

“We offer theoretical applications, ethical considerations, and empirical evidence within the scope of social media communication and prescription drug abuse and addiction,” concluded Kim. “Our critical review suggests that social media big data can be a tremendous resource to understand, monitor and intervene on drug abuse and addiction problems.”