Snapchat has developed new educational tools and content to crack down on selling deadly counterfeit pills on the messaging app. The tools aim to warn users of the dangers of these pills in an effort to protect its community from the “devastating impacts of the fentanyl crisis,” the company said Thursday.
The company said it improved the automated systems it uses to detect the sale of illegal drugs on the app, hired more people to respond to law enforcement data requests during criminal investigations, and developed a portal. Educational in-app called Heads Up focused on the dangers of fentanyl and counterfeit pills.
Counterfeit prescription pills that look like legitimate drugs, such as Percocet, OxyContin, or Xanax, but actually contain a lethal dose of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl have been linked to a spate of deaths in the United States in recent years. . These pills are widely available on social media platforms, including Snapchat, and 2 in 5 of those seized and tested in the United States contain enough fentanyl to kill, according to a warning issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration last month.
“We have heard devastating stories from families affected by this crisis, including cases where counterfeit pills containing fentanyl were purchased from drug dealers on Snapchat,” Snapchat’s parent company Snap said in a post. blog. “We are committed to removing illegal drug sales from our platform. “
The announcement comes less than a week after NBC News featured eight parents whose children died after taking a single pill containing fentanyl purchased on Snapchat.
On September 27, DEA administrator Anne Milgram said social media companies were not doing enough to stop the sale of counterfeit pills on their platforms.
“They need to understand that Americans are dying. They are dying at a record rate, ”she said in an interview with Kate Snow on NBC’s“ TODAY ”. “And they have to be a partner to stop it.”
Snap said improvements to its proactive detection tools – which use artificial intelligence to identify images, words and emojis linked to drug sales – have enabled the company to increase the number of deleted accounts. by 112% in the first half of 2021.
Over the past six months, he’s also used intelligence from public health data firm S-3, which scours the internet for drug sellers, to identify Snapchat accounts that may be breaking the rules. S-3 doesn’t search Snapchat directly, but rather searches for resellers elsewhere – on other social media sites or on the dark web – who reference a Snapchat account in their ads.
“Most drug dealers are cross-platform traders,” said Tim Mackey, founder of S-3. “Snapchat is a popular modality for marketing, engaging and building a customer list.”
Users who search Snapchat for certain drug-related terms or addiction help will now be directed to the education portal built into the Heads Up app, which includes content from advocacy groups like Song for Charlie, a non-profit organization founded by Ed and Mary Ternan after their 22-year-old son died of illicit “fentapill” in May 2020. The Ternans have been among the main voices in educating social media companies like Snap on how they could better protect their users and developed a public service campaign targeting children. and their parents pointing out how one pill can kill.
“We don’t have a lot of legal recourse against the platforms, so clenching their fists was really futile,” said Ed Ternan. “Nothing we could do could bring Charlie back, so if we wanted to get results and not just let off steam, we had to work with them.”
He added that now “the same features and market share that make Snapchat so appealing to drug dealers that we can use to warn kids about the problem.”
Snap also commissioned a study, which surveyed 1,449 Americans aged 13 to 24, to understand how young people perceive prescription drugs and fentanyl. The survey, conducted by market research firm Morning Consult, found that teens and young adults experience high levels of stress and anxiety, and some are experimenting with prescription drugs as a coping mechanism.
Fifteen percent of respondents admitted to abusing prescription drugs. One in five teenagers surveyed said they had thought about doing it, and 40 percent said they knew a peer who had.
While 60 percent of those surveyed had heard of drug-related deaths linked to fentanyl, only 27 percent of the teens surveyed had heard of fentanyl used to create counterfeit pills. As a group, they were much more likely to describe heroin and cocaine as “extremely dangerous” – 61% and 50%, respectively – than fentanyl (37%).
“This lack of awareness can have devastating consequences when a single counterfeit pill containing fentanyl can kill,” Snap said.