On Reddit, Intimate Glimpses of Addicts in Thrall to Opioids
By ELLEN GABLER and RICH HARRIS
Jul 20 2017
Every day, thousands of people who are consumed by the nation’s opioid epidemic connect on the popular discussion website Reddit.
They swap advice on getting high and offer encouragement to those who have managed to stay clean or are teetering between recovery and relapse. Addicts lament the deaths of fellow users who have suddenly stopped posting. And until last week, buyers and sellers could easily find each other, relying on coded messages that communicated their intent.
Reddit banned the forum, known as opiaterollcall, last week but would not disclose what led to its closing. Another forum to buy opiates quickly sprang up to replace it; Reddit banned that one, too.
They were just small parts of one of the world’s largest online communities. But the dispatches left behind tell a surprisingly intimate story about the tenacity of the crisis, the trajectory of the addicted and Reddit’s role in facilitating access to drugs tied to the mounting toll across America.
Among the victims was Rachel Frazier, a former nurse and mother of a young son, now 3. Last June, she offered advice about medicine for withdrawals on a Reddit opiate support group that is simply called “opiates.” In September, she posted three times on the now-banned drug-buying forum opiaterollcall. She had recently moved to Mansfield, Ohio, from Texas with her husband, Jason.
“Just moved to 419,” she wrote on Sept. 3, referring to her area code. Signaling that she wanted drugs, she wrote, “Looking for friends.”
Two weeks later, her husband found her dead in their living room, slumped over an ottoman with an unopened can of Diet Coke nearby. Relatives said a medical examiner determined that Ms. Frazier, 35, had overdosed on heroin and carfentanyl.
Between 2012 and 2016, Rachel Frazier posted on Reddit regularly as rachel1787, occasionally dipping into drug-related communities such as “opiates.” Two weeks before she was found dead of an overdose, she posted in “opiaterollcall” for the first time, apparently hoping to obtain drugs using the forum’s coded language.
Her death was memorialized on Reddit by someone with the user name UhhImJef, who wrote about having spoken to Ms. Frazier just the day before. “We lost another,” the post read. “We’ll miss you sweets.”
Like others on the Reddit forums, Ms. Frazier had a longstanding addiction, her family said in interviews, and she procured painkillers in a variety of ways, not just online. The relatives said it was not clear when she switched to heroin, who provided the lethal dose, or if she got the drugs that killed her by way of Reddit.
It is just one of many places to find drugs online. In recent years, some of the biggest black markets have been on the so-called dark net, where buyers can place mail orders using Bitcoin and other virtual currency to operate with anonymity. AlphaBay, one of the largest such markets, was shut down two weeks ago, after a law enforcement crackdown.
On the public internet, drug buyers have been able to use sites over the years including Craigslist and Topix, forums on Google Groups and, more recently, mobile apps like Snapchat, Instagram and other social media platforms.