NHS criticises Instagram over promotion of 'hourglass' drug product
NHS chiefs have criticised Instagram for allowing the promotion of a dangerous "hourglass figure" supplement.
Three senior executives have written to the social media giant demanding it blocks access to accounts showcasing Apetamin, which can cause fatigue, jaundice and liver failure.
Previous investigations have revealed that the unlicensed drug is being marketed by influencers as a means of achieving a curvy figure.
The letter, from Claire Murdoch, NHS England's national mental health director, and Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director, alongside Kitty Wallace of the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation, said the drug could result in "serious harm".
The product was predominantly targeted at younger women and girls, they said.
"On behalf of NHS patients, staff and people experiencing body dysmorphic disorder and other mental health conditions, we are concerned about both the physical and mental health impacts of the promotion of this drug and strongly urge you to demonstrate a duty of care for your customers, and clamp down now on this dangerous content," the executives wrote.
The letter, addressed personally to Adam Mosseri, the Instagram chief, said that while the site had recently stressed that buying and selling non-medical or prescription drugs was against its policies, many accounts were still active despite being reported.
It added: "When such activity was reported - in line with Instagram advice - no action was taken, with a customer service response from your platform claiming that the commercial sale of Apetamin through Instagram accounts did not breach community guidelines."
The letter said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency had made clear that Apetamin was an "unauthorised medicine which should not be sold, supplied or advertised without a licence", and that "taking unauthorised medicines can have serious health consequences".
But it said that a quick search revealed "dozens" of profiles on Instagram selling and advertising the product to potentially millions of users.
The popularity of Apetamin has been linked to the vogue for so-called hourglass figures promoted by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Girls as young as 12 have reportedly taken the appetite stimulant, which causes extreme drowsiness in some who take it.
One woman, who spoke to a BBC Three investigation, said she had gained two stone in a month and a half.
The NHS leaders demanded an urgent update on what action Instagram was taking to shut down such accounts and confirm that any content selling or promoting Apetamin would be removed.
They also challenged the social media platform to confirm how many accounts and posts had been removed in relation to Apetamin and what steps were currently being taken to protect users from content "likely, or with the potential to, trigger or exacerbate body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders and other conditions".
The letter also asked Instagram to support a recommendation from Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, that social media firms could contribute more financially to the provision of young people's mental health services that were "increasingly called on to support people whose health problems are linked to damaging online content".
In 2019 Instagram said it was banning quick-fix diet product promotions.
The company said it would remove any posts that made "miraculous" claims about weight loss and were linked to a commercial promotion.