In the UK, the drug Xanax which is used to treat anxiety can only be obtained on private prescription but in the US it is readily available over the counter.
However, an investigation carried out by the BBC discovered that people in the UK are able to purchase the drug illegally through social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
Neil Coles, Early Intervention Substance worker with drugs charity Addaction said: “Following the take down of a number of large crypto markets by law enforcement last year, and a loss of trust in these markets by some users, we began to see a rise in drugs being sold over social media platforms.
“These platforms are much easier for young people to access, requiring little or no specialist knowledge to be able to purchase substances. Over the past six months we have seen a big rise in drugs being sold over platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook.”
During the course of the investigation the BBC were able to purchase drugs such as Xanax and diazepam that were advertised on the social media sites despite Facebook and Instagram claiming that the buying and selling of drugs on their sites was prohibited.
A teenager from Kent told the BBC that he used social media to buy drugs.
He said: “It is possible now to go on Instagram and find a drug dealer.
“You have to find a page which you could tell sold drugs, based on either their pictures or whatever.”
He said the conversation then moves from social media to other apps which can’t be tracked and are “safer to use”.
Mr Coles said swift action needs to be taken to address the growing number of teens purchasing drugs online.
He said: “It’s really important that we get some solid statistics around this so we know exactly what we are dealing with in terms of the size of the issue and then apply an evidence-based response for the young people we work with.
“There is a need to act quickly and provide accurate education based on the facts. It’s important that we highlight the risks for young people without using scare tactics which we know have little to no efficacy.”
A government spokesman told the Standard that it was already addressing the issue.
He said: “Controlled prescription-only medicines such as Xanax, by their very nature, are potent and should only be prescribed by a doctor or appropriate healthcare professional.
“We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to be online. Anything that is illegal offline should be illegal online. Law enforcement agencies continue to work with internet providers to shut down UK-based websites found to be committing offences and we expect social media companies to have robust processes in place to act promptly to remove content and user accounts that do not comply with their own polices.
“We are taking firm action to prevent the harms caused by drugs. Our Drug Strategy sets out a balanced approach which brings together police, health, community and global partners to tackle the illicit drug trade, protect the most vulnerable and help those with a drug dependency to recover and turn their lives around.”
A spokesman for Facebook said it had since removed the accounts which were flagged up during the investigation.
He said: “Buying or selling drugs of any sort is not allowed on Facebook…We urge our community to report activity like this using our reporting tools which are available on every profile, page and piece of content on Facebook”
When approached by the BBC an Instagram spokesman said: “Buying or selling drugs is prohibited on Instagram and these accounts have been removed.”
The Standard has reached out to Instagram for further comment.