Smartphone Apps Promoting Illicit Drugs, Rated Suitable for Children in Apple App Store and Google Play


Sydney, Australia -- (SBWIRE) -- 02/27/2014 -- Smartphone app stores in full of apps promoting illicit drugs - a medium that has global reach, including to children - to promote its illicit drugs, warn researchers in the Journal of Consumer Health On the Internet.

[Apps Promoting Illicit Drugs—A Need for Tighter Regulation? doi 10.1080/15398285.2014.869166]

“The content of the identified apps contained organised information, teaching techniques and simulations with explicit advocacy for illicit drug use. The number of pro-illicit drug use apps identified in this study (410) far exceeds the number of pro-smoking apps (107) we identified in a separate study around the same time (BinDhim et al. 2012). This raises questions and concerns about new media as a platform to disseminate information and connect people engaging in illegal activities.’” The study discussed.

Apps promoting illicit drugs was defined any app in the English language that provides information about obtaining, growing, or using the substance; simulates its use in a game-like app; engages the user in an illicit drug abuse community; or provides substance- use-related images.

410 apps identified as “illicit drug use apps,” 86% were found in Google Play. In Google Play, 17% of Android apps ignored Google Play maturity criteria and offered these apps as “Low Maturity.” This means that the user could download these apps even if the parental control system on the device was turned on. In contrast, the Apple App Store contained only 13% of the identified apps, and most (92%) were rated for ages seventeen and up. Apps found in the Apple App Store are of lower pro–illicit drug intensity than those in Google Play, especially in the Game and Drug Use Simulation categories.

Of the identified apps, 356 apps for Android in Google Play were downloaded by more than 7 million unique devices. The number of apps and download numbers of such apps almost doubled over a three-month period in 2012.

The authors point out that the study identified a number of pro-illicit drug use apps with “Low Maturity” ratings being marketed as games and entertainment, flagging the potential for this new media as a source of influence on young peoples’ drug use and behavior. Young people are particularly vulnerable, because of the popularity of smartphones among this age group, and the appeal of the apps, in addition a there is a causal association between media exposure and tobacco and illicit drug use in children and adolescents say the authors.

And they add: “App stores are registered businesses in many countries, and they have the infrastructure to limit the availability of some apps for specific countries (BinDhim et al. 2012). In the case of apps that link their availability to legal medical cannabis use, these apps are also available in countries such as Australia that do not have legal medical cannabis policies. Although developers who want to sell apps in Australia for example have to provide an Australian business number (ABN) before their apps can be shown in the Australian Apple App Store, there does not appear to be any effort to ensure that apps are relevant and consistent with local laws.”

For more information contact: Nasser BinDhim at