Background: Fueled by misinformation, fentanyl panic has harmed public health through complicating overdose rescue while rationalizing hyper-punitive criminal laws, wasteful expenditures, and proposals to curtail vital access to pain pharmacotherapy . To assess misinformation about health risk from casual contact with fentanyl, we characterize its diffusion and excess visibility in mainstream and social media .
Methods: We used Media Cloud to compile and characterize mainstream and social media content published between January 2015 and September 2019 on overdose risk from casual fentanyl exposure .
Results: Relevant content appeared in 551 news articles spanning 48 states . Misinformed media reports received approximately 450,000 Facebook shares, potentially reaching nearly 70,000,000 users from 2015-2019 . Amplified by erroneous government statements, misinformation received excess social media visibility by a factor of 15 compared to corrective content, which garnered fewer than 30,000 shares with potential reach of 4,600,000 Facebook users . Conclusion: Health-related misinformation continues to proliferate online, hampering responses to public health crises . More evidence-informed tools are needed to effectively challenge misinformed narratives in mainstream and social media.