ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Facebook is launching an effort to help fight the opioid crisis in New Mexico — a state that has battled heroin addiction for decades, the social media giant announced Tuesday.
The tech company said it will work with New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas to show Facebook users how they can use its digital tools to combat addiction.
Ana Martinez, head of Facebook's community engagement for the U.S. Southwest, said the social media company's online groups offer families support and information to fight addiction.
"A great example of this is actually 'Facing Addiction', which is a Facebook page started by a nonprofit," Martinez said before Facebook brought together health experts and advocates in Albuquerque for training Tuesday. "They currently have 60,000 followers on their Facebook page."
The members of the page started a more intimate forum where those impacted by addiction to find comfort and support, Martinez said.
For years, New Mexico has battled heroin addiction that has claimed generations of families in places like Espanola, New Mexico. That history of an epidemic made the state a natural place for Facebook to experiment with an anti-opioid addiction campaign.
The move comes as Facebook is preparing to open a data center in central New Mexico.
But the Menlo Park, California-based company also faces criticism for allowing sellers to use its platform to offer illegal drugs and for not monitoring fictitious news on its pages.
Prosecutors in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora this week said they captured nine people for allegedly offering drugs to minors via Facebook and messaging apps. The state detectives' agency said a gang sold marijuana and meth to youths, with messages advertising certain drugs and prices.
Last year, a CNBC investigation found that sellers in the U.S. and overseas were using Facebook pages and videos to offer opioids that U.S. laws say require a prescription.
Unilever, the world's second-biggest advertiser, also recently threatened to pull advertising from Facebook and Google if both didn't improve monitoring of fake news stories.
And Seattle's elections watchdog said last week Facebook is violating a Seattle law that requires the company to reveal who pays for political advertising on its influential social media platform.
Martinez said the company planned to double the company's security team to 20,000 people this year to monitor fake news and other prohibited material. It currently has 10,000 people staff for that purpose.
"We do not allow the buying, the selling or trading of drugs on our platforms," she said.
Facebook encourages users to help flag inappropriate content so that the company's staff can remove it, Martinez added.
Balderas said he welcomed Facebook's efforts in New Mexico to help battle the state's persistent opioid crisis and looked forward to working with Facebook.
"I believe this is the type of effort that can save lives," he said. "I am excited they are willing to be partners in this public safety crisis."
Balderas is suing in state district court a number of the nation's largest opioid manufacturers and three major wholesale distributors, alleging that the companies exacerbated opioid abuse in New Mexico.
The lawsuit accuses opioid manufacturers of aggressively pushing highly addictive and dangerous drugs and falsely representing to doctors that patients would rarely succumb to addiction.
New Mexico's drug overdose death rate is 25.2 per 100,000 residents while the U.S. national average is 19.8 per 100,000 residents.