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Instagram targets opioid crisis with pop-up offering help

If you search on some drug-related hashtags, a help window appears.

A man uses heroin under a bridge where he lives with other addicts in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, which has become a hub for heroin use.

A man uses heroin under a bridge where he lives with other addicts in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, which has become a hub for heroin use.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

"Can we help?" asks Instagram if you search #opioid.

On Wednesday, the Facebook-owned photo sharing app launched a feature to support people who may be struggling with substance abuse, drug addiction or serious mental health issues. When you search hashtags such as #opioid, #crack or #suicide, Instagram sends a pop-up message that refers you to more information about substance use, prevention and recovery.

opioid

A help window pops up when you search #opioid.

Screenshot by Carrie Mihalcik/CNET

"The opioid epidemic is an issue that affects millions of people, and we want to use our platform to offer resources to those who need it -- in the places where they are seeking help," Instagram's head of public policy, Karina Newton, said in a statement. "This is an important step for us in our ongoing commitment to make Instagram the kindest, safest social network."

Instagram rolled out the feature worldwide after seeing people use opioid-related hashtags on its platform to share their struggles with substance misuse and addiction and to find support.

Instagram also said some bad actors use its platform to promote the sale of prescription and illegal drugs. But it said blocking the opioid hashtags wouldn't work well.

"In some cases, we are removing the communities of support that help people struggling with opioid or substance misuse," an Instagram spokesperson said in a statement. "We wanted to find a solution to ensure that people who search opioid-related hashtags in the US have a number of resources available to them."

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