Snapchat cracks down on drug dealing after fentanyl overdoses

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Snapchat cracks down on drug dealing after fentanyl overdoses

Snapchat is cracking down on drug sales through its disappearing-photos app following reports of dealers using it to sling deadly fentanyl-laced pills. 

The company is ramping up automatic “proactive detection” systems that boot drug dealers from the app, according to a Thursday blog post. It’s also hiring more people to respond to law enforcement queries and adding an educational feature called “Heads Up” that will show content about the dangers of drugs to users who search for terms like “fentanyl.” 

“We have heard devastating stories from families impacted by this crisis, including cases where fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills were purchased from drug dealers on Snapchat,” the company said. “We are determined to remove illegal drug sales from our platform.” 

The news comes after a series of teen overdose deaths allegedly caused by counterfeit prescription pills sold through Snapchat. Dealers reportedly use the platform to sell tablets that appear to be painkiller or anti-anxiety medications like OxyContin, Xanax and Vicodin — but are actually fakes containing other drugs like fentanyl that can lead to deadly overdoses. 

In September, the Drug Enforcement Administration warned that such counterfeit pills were being found in “unprecedented quantities.” 

“More than 9.5 million counterfeit pills were seized so far this year, which is more than the last two years combined,” the DEA said. 

A bag of pills
Dealers reportedly use the platform to sell tablets that appear to be painkiller or anti-anxiety medications like OxyContin, Xanax and Vicodin — but are actually fakes containing fentanyl.
AFP via Getty Images
fentanyl
More than 60 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved fentanyl, according to the CDC.
The Washington Post via Getty Im

DEA chief Anne Milgram has blasted social media companies for not doing enough to stop the dealing of counterfeit pills on their platforms.  

“Social media companies know that their platforms are being used for this. And they need — they need to understand that Americans are dying,” Milgram said on the Today show in September. “They think they’re buying a prescription drug bought in an illegal market. And they’re not. They’re buying fentanyl or methamphetamine. And the fentanyl pills can kill people.”

But Snapchat says that it’s addressing the issue. So far this year, the company said it has increased the number of accounts removed for drug dealing by 112 percent. Two-thirds of drug-related content is detected by its artificial intelligence systems, while the remainder is reported by users, according to Snapchat. 

Screenshots of Snapchat's new features
Snapchat’s new “Heads Up” tool will warn users about drugs.
Snap

A Snapchat-produced news show, Good Luck America, is preparing to release an episode on the fentanyl crisis, the company said. 

Drug overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 in 2020 — a 29 percent increase from 2019, according to US Centers for Disease Control data. Fentanyl was involved in more than 60 percent of overdoses that year, CDC data suggests. 

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