Illegal synthetic opioids have been advertised for sale on SoundCloud and X, investigation finds

The advertisements on SoundCloud were often disguised in brief audio clips, and have since been removed.

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The SoundCloud logo - an orange square with a white cloud shape on it - shown on a computer screen

Image: LIONEL BONAVENTURE / AFP via Getty Images

Illegal synthetic opioids, which have been linked to nearly three UK deaths a week on average, have been advertised on SoundCloud and X, a new investigation by the BBC has revealed. The drugs, known as nitazenes, were found to have been advertised across nearly 3,000 posts on SoundCloud and more than 700 on X.

SoundCloud is used by musicians both new and established to share music. The investigation reveals that these advertisements were often in the form of brief audio clips lasting just a few seconds, with the drug’s name and dealer contact details appearing as the title of the track.

When the corporation contacted SoundCloud for comment, it said it had been “targeted by bad actors” and promised to do “everything” it can “to tackle this worldwide epidemic”.

SoundCloud also told the BBC that it uses both human moderation and software to identify and remove content that promotes the sale of drugs. It says it “continues to evaluate and invest in best in class technology to aid in this effort”. X reportedly did not respond to its requests for comment.

The posts on SoundCloud have now been removed. According to the outlet, X has also taken down hundreds of listings on its site despite there being no response from the platform.

Professor Vicki Nash, director of the Oxford Internet Institute (a department at the University of Oxford that researches online behaviour), says: “Finding adverts on this scale, hundreds, thousands of adverts, is horrifying with potentially a very significant risk to human life.” She also states that the investigation has uncovered how criminals have been “blatantly misusing” SoundCloud.

Find out more in the BBC documentary, The New Drug Threat, available now on iPlayer.


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