Fentanyl Pill Victims Are Getting Younger. Parents Blame Snapchat.

On June 4, 2021, parents and family members gathered in 30 cities around the country to protest social  media companies’ inaction on drug sales on their platforms. The protest in Santa Monica focused on Snapchat headquarters. Organized by the Association of People Against Lethal Drugs (APALD), protestors brought photos of their loved ones framed in the Snapchat logo and the statement “Snapchat is an accomplice to my murder.”

PSM has been tracking Snapchat-related deaths due to counterfeit pills. So far, we have recorded Snapchat deaths in Arizona, California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas.

Over the last year, the victims of deadly counterfeit pills have been trending younger. In November 2020, we shared the story of 14-year-old Alondra Valeria Salinas, an Arizona teen who died after taking a counterfeit oxycodone pill she bought via Snapchat.

 Since that time, we have found other young victims in the above mentioned states, including Alexander Neville, a 14-year-old California boy whose mother Amy Neville organized the protest at Snapchat headquarters. She told us that along with failing to keep drug dealers off their platform, Snapchat has not been responsive to law enforcement requests for information about users suspected of drug dealing. According to Amy, "Snapchat told us in a recent call with other victim families that they are a small company that doesn't have the staff to respond to all the requests they get from law enforcement."

It is worth noting Snapchat is a publicly-traded company with a reported $100 billion valuation that made $2.5 billion in 2020.

 Snapchat is not alone in their failure to effectively restrict drug dealer access on its platforms. However, Snapchat has an extremely young user base, so the fact that they turn a blind eye to drug dealing on the site is a serious problem and something all parents need to be aware of.

One researcher who grasps the nature of this issue is Dr. Tim Mackey. He created S-3 Research to harness the power of big data, machine learning, and web forensics to identify illegal drug sales online. This technology can be used on social media platforms, the Internet (including online pharmacies), e-commerce platforms, and the dark web. We are puzzled that more social media companies are not already using such technology to weed out drug dealers and other bad actors from their platforms. 

We think social media companies need to be more proactive in blocking dangerous content and that they must be held accountable for ignoring the sale of deadly fake drugs via their platforms. However, what can parents do right now? APALD has the right idea, and now is the time for every parent to talk to their kids about fake pills.

Please download and share our handout "Talking to Your Family About Counterfeit Medicine" today. 

These conversations with your kids can’t happen soon enough.