AI That Recognizes Illegal Drug Trade On Twitter Developed By Researchers

Medical researchers in a San Diego laboratory created an AI that can find an illegal opioid trade on Twitter. The results of their study show that different vendors and different techniques traffic the drug illegally online.

The main goal of the research is to identify tweets that market illegal online sale of the substance.

The researchers first collected tweets and filtered them for prescription opioid keywords. They then used unsupervised topic modeling machine learning to find tweets associated with illegal marketing and sales. Finally, they conducted web forensic analyses to distinguish different types of online vendors.

Keywords used to filter the tweets include codeine, Percocet, fentanyl, Vicodin, OxyContin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

The AI analyzed 619,937 tweets using these keywords. The drugs are marketed online in 1,778 cases. Ninety percent of these cases contained hyperlinks, but only 47 remained active. The study covered June to November 2015.

The researchers also found that the isolated geographic data is consistent with the study conducted by humans. Identifying opioid abuse trends more efficiently is the most relevant result of the study. Those involved in the online drug trade do not find themselves on social media, which is why the study is useful to researchers but not to the police.

A phone display of social media apps.
[Image by Twin Design/Shutterstock]

The AI's ability to learn generates an organized and accurate result from the information feed. This ability sets it apart from traditional computer programs relying on keywords. A representation of the results would be the AI replacing traditional survey methods as a means to gather data as scientific evidence. Traditional survey methods usually take a long time to complete.

Unlike data provided by health facilities and law enforcement data, information from Twitter provides information on buyers and sellers who have not sought medical attention or have been arrested.

Pain relief, including anesthesia, is the primary medical use of opioids. Aside from that, it is also used to treat diarrhea, opioid use disorder, opioid overdose, cough, and opioid-induced constipation. Opioid abuse results in euphoria.

Drug overdoses caused the 64,000 deaths in the U.S. The number of deaths due to opioid overdose rose from 9,945 in 2015 to 20,145 in 2016.

By using this method, it would be easier to find illegal online sellers.

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