Snapchat is putting in place new safety measures to try and stop young users buying and selling fentanyl on its platform, the company announced Thursday.
The company unveiled an in-app education portal called “Heads Up” in a blog post Thursday designed to provide young users with information from substance abuse advocacy groups including Song for Charlie, Shatterproof, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration on the dangers of fentanyl. Snapchat also said it is planning on adding health information from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention in the coming weeks.
“I am glad Snapchat is making these valuable changes for public safety,” Amanda Faith Eubanks, whose son Luca Manuel was killed by a fentanyl pill bought from a drug dealer on Snapchat, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “Unfortunately for my 13-year-old son Luca all of this was too little too late.”
Eubanks’ son was offered a pill he was told was Percocet by a drug dealer on Snapchat that was in actuality fentanyl, and died from an overdose on Aug. 12, 2020. Eubanks says she wished Snapchat acted sooner.
“Snapchat took over five months to release information in my son’s case after he died, during which time his dealer kept using Snapchat and selling fentanyl in our community,” Eubanks told the DCNF. Ryan Harrison, who sold Eubanks’ son the fentanyl, was arrested in July 2021 and charged with homicide.
Eubanks said she believes Snapchat is just offering “lip service” to public safety.
Snapchat’s announcement follows an investigation by NBC News last week which found that Snapchat was linked to the sale of fentanyl that killed teens and young adults in fifteen states.
“Social media companies know that their platforms are being used for this. And they need to understand that Americans are dying at record rates and they need to be a partner in stopping it,” Anne Milgram, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, told NBC.
Social media experts say Snapchat’s particular structure makes it a popular choice for drug dealers.
“Most drug dealers are multiplatform marketers,” Tim Mackey, founder of public health data company S-3, told NBC. “Snapchat is a popular modality for marketing, engagement and building a customer list.”
The DEA issued a public safety notice in late September warning of a dramatic increase in counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl being sold in the U.S., including over social media networks.
“Fake prescription pills are widely accessible and often sold on social media and e-commerce platforms – making them available to anyone with a smartphone, including teens and young adults,” the notice read.
The DEA said that more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills have been seized so far in 2021, more than the previous two years combined, and that the number of counterfeit pills with fentanyl the agency had seized had increased nearly 430 percent since 2019.
The agency also said that two out of every five pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.
Snapchat said it will begin showing users information on the dangers of fentanyl when they search for drug-related keywords, as well as release new filters that ARE intended to raise awareness. The company also said it has improved its communication with law enforcement and is getting better at detecting drug dealing on its platform.
“Our enforcement rates have increased by 112% during the first half of 2021, and we have increased proactive detection rates by 260%,” the company said.
Snapchat also announced findings from research it conducted into the prevalence of drugs on its platform and the attitudes of teen users. The company interviewed over 1,000 users age 13-24 and found that many of its young users are abusing prescription drugs, while few are informed on the dangers of fentanyl and its presence in counterfeit pills.
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