Snapchat cracks down on illegal drug sales amid fentanyl crisis

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Fentanyl-laced pills add to spike in overdoses

Snapchat has unveiled new safety policies aimed at confronting the rampant sale of illegal drugs on its platforms, the company announced Thursday. The crackdown comes amid what the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says is a “staggering increase” of fentanyl-laced pills in the country that are contributing to a national uptick in drug overdoses. 

“We are determined to remove illegal drug sales from our platform, and we have been investing in proactive detection and collaboration with law enforcement to hold drug dealers accountable for the harm they are causing our community,” Snapchat said in a statement Thursday. 

The social media platform said that it has developed a new educational portal called Heads Up, which users will be directed towards should they search for drug-related key words. The tool will distribute content from health organizations like Song for Charlie, Shatterproof, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The app said it made “significant operational improvements” by increasing its enforcement rates by 112% and its proactive detection rates by 260% since the start of the year. It also developed new family safety tools for parents and their children on the platform.

“We will continue to work to strike the right balance between safety and privacy on our platform so that we can empower our community to express themselves without fear of harm,” Snapchat said. 

Last month, the DEA issued a national public safety alert warning of the “sharp increase” in fake pills designed to look like legitimate prescription medications. The counterfeit pills are illegally manufactured in labs and often contain deadly doses of fentanyl — a powerful synthetic opioid used to treat severe pain. 

According to Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco, the fake pills are marketed to teenagers and oftentimes sold on social media platforms — including Snapchat — or on the streets with cash and cryptocurrency. 

Snapchat said they are aware of the growing problem on its platform. 

“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 platform said. 

Since the start of 2021, officials have seized more than 9.5 million counterfeit pills, which is more than the two prior years combined, according to the DEA. The agency announced last week that it seized approximately 1.8 million fentanyl-laced pills and nearly 1,570 pounds of fentanyl powder, which is enough to kill more than 700,000 people and to potentially make tens of millions more lethal pills, in a two-month sting.

In 2020, the U.S. saw the largest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in a single year, increasing 30% from the year before, according to Monaco. In that same year, opioids were responsible for almost 75% of overdose deaths, and the main driver of those deaths was illicit fentanyl. The number of fake pills with fentanyl also jumped nearly 430% since 2019.

“The pervasiveness of synthetic opioids, the low cost and the way criminal drug networks disguise them as legitimate prescription pills really can make them particularly dangerous to public safety,” Monaco said.

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