Using Social Media to Examine Themes Surrounding Fentanyl Misuse and Risk Indicators

Subst Use Misuse. 2023;58(7):920-929. doi: 10.1080/10826084.2023.2196574. Epub 2023 Apr 5.


Background: Opioid misuse is a crisis in the United States, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl pose risks for overdose and mortality. Individuals who misuse substances commonly seek information and support online due to stigma and legal concerns, and this online networking may provide insight for substance misuse prevention and treatment. We aimed to characterize topics in substance-misuse related discourse among members of an online fentanyl community. Method: We investigated posts on a fentanyl-specific forum on the platform Reddit to identify emergent substance misuse-related themes potentially indicative of heightened risk for overdose and other adverse health outcomes. We analyzed 27 posts and 338 comments with a qualitative codebook established using a subset of user posts via inductive and deductive methods. Posts and comments were independently reviewed by two coders with a third coder resolving discrepancies. The top 200 subreddits with the most activity by r/fentanyl members were also inductively analyzed to understand interests of r/fentanyl users. Results: Functional/quality of life impairments due to substance misuse (29%) was the most commonly occurring theme, followed by polysubstance use (27%) and tolerance/dependence/withdrawal (20%). Additional themes included drug identification with photos, substances cut with other drugs, injection drugs, and past overdoses. Media-focused subreddits and other drug focused communities were among the communities most often followed by r/fentanyl users. Conclusion: Themes closely align with DSM-V substance use disorder symptoms for fentanyl and other substances. High involvement in media-focused subreddits and other substance-misuse-related communities suggests digital platforms as acceptable for overdose prevention and recovery support interventions.

Keywords: Fentanyl; Reddit; opioid use disorder; overdose; social media; substance misuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Drug Overdose*
  • Fentanyl / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / drug therapy
  • Quality of Life
  • Social Media*
  • United States


  • Fentanyl
  • Analgesics, Opioid