What You Need to Know About Drugs on Social Media
Kids used to have limited options for where they could get drugs: friends at school, medicine cabinets or on the street. Now they don’t even have to leave the house. Buying drugs online has become increasingly popular and drug dealers are targeting kids on social media.
How Does it Work?
Snapchat and Instagram are the popular platforms for this, but it happens on other platforms too. Dealers post photos with captions that include hashtags, emojis and instructions for contacting the them. Communication and transactions usually occur off of the site using encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Kik. The buyer can pay using a service like Venmo and the product is shipped to their door. Sometimes people do choose to meet in person and pay with cash. The image to the right is a Snapchat ad shared by a Utah teen.
Snapchat was in the news when Dr. Laura Berman’s 16-year-old son purchased what he believed to be Xanax, but instead received a counterfeit pill that was laced with fentanyl and died of an overdose. Sadly, there are many other stories like this.
How to Talk to Your Kids
It’s important that you talk to your kids and let them know what dangers are lurking in plain sight. Even if you get an eye roll, they hear you. Here are some points to guide the conversation. You can also download this brochure from Fairfield CARES: Talking Tips for Every Age
1. Communicate your expectations
Tell your kids that you expect them to avoid drugs and alcohol and establish consequences if they break the rules. Here are some additional conversation tips and other helpful prevention articles.
2. Ask questions
Ask them if they have seen drugs online or if their friends have and how they feel about what they are seeing.
3. Make them aware of deadly additives
Teenagers are probably already aware of the basic dangers of drugs, but they may not know
about counterfeit pills and other substances being laced with fentanyl. Share the current story about Dr. Laura Berman’s son. Show them photos of counterfeit versus real pills and how they look alike. Let them know fentanyl causes deadly overdoses and it is being mixed in with all kinds of drugs including heroin, cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamines and counterfeit "prescription" pills. Marijuana is also being mixed with things such as embalming fluid, or the hallucinogen PCP, according to Partnership to End Addiction.
4. Tell them there are still legal consequences Many kids may believe that buying drugs online is anonymous and they won’t be caught by law enforcement. That is not true. Police use social media to help catch the dealers. In fact, a Utah police officer said he uses social media in 90% of his busts. Let your kids know that they could easily ruin their future by engaging in illegal online activity. 5. Remind them of how to stay safe online ConnectSafely and Commonsense Media have very in-depth guides for parents. This guide from the FTC also has a variety of internet safety tips. Let your kids know that you will be monitoring their phone and internet use. There are services that can help you with monitoring. It may feel like you are invading their privacy, but safety is most important.
What Else Can Parents Do?
Be on the same social media platforms as your kids so you can monitor what they are doing and who their friends are. If you want to learn more about them, check out the guides we mentioned on ConnectSafely and Commonsense Media.
Adjust settings on phones to turn off location monitoring on social media apps and block content and apps that you don't want your kids accessing.
Check browser history for any suspicious activity or concerning search terms.
If you suspect drug use, monitor the mail for any suspicious packages.
Get familiar with common slang and hidden emoji meanings.
Some common slang to be aware of:
DOC Drug of Choice
PAL Parents are Listening
BRB Be Right Back
P911 Parent Alert
KPC Keeping Parents Clueless