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The Dangers of Social Media

December 28, 2023

By: Emily DeWalt, Prevention Specialist


With 2024 just around the corner, it is safe to say that technology has advanced exponentially since the beginning of the 21st century. One of these advancements includes the ability to communicate around the world through social media. Today in the United States, social media accounts are as ubiquitous as automobiles – at least someone in each household has one. In 2018, one survey found that 73% of Americans are social media users. You can only imagine how that 73% has risen over the past five years! In fact, more recent surveys have revealed that out of all American teens 13 – 17 years old, 90% have used social media. Having the ability to connect with each other virtually has certainly been a game-changer in the modern world of socializing, but it doesn’t come without risks. With almost all teens connected to social media through one platform or another, they may be exposed to drug dealers that take advantage of social media to traffic their product.


The social media platform that has received the most attention for giving young people access to drugs is Snapchat. Snapchat is unique compared to other platforms - users can choose a setting that makes their shared content disappear a few seconds after it has been received. This appeals to dealers that broadcast their product and send messages with individual users without a trace. According to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, anonymity and a lack of third-party monitoring also allow drug deals to easily be carried out unnoticed.


Typically, adolescents who are seeking pills over Snapchat are in the market for Oxycodone, Adderall, or Xanax. We have learned that many of these pills are counterfeit and are being distributed in alarming quantities across the nation. A vast majority of these young people are purchasing these fake pills unknowingly, and without even knowing that there are fake pills out there. Because Snapchat makes it easy for drug dealers to sell, many teens have overdosed from consuming fentanyl-laced pills (and often, just one pill).


In April of 2023, NBC News reported that relatives of 60 young people who died of fentanyl overdose are suing Snapchat for the disappearing message feature that facilitates illegal drugs to be sold. Furthermore, the lawsuit against Snapchat claims that the company has turned a blind eye to notifications about drug sales occurring on specific accounts.  In October, Snapchat responded to this issue with an informational campaign on the dangers of fentanyl. Awareness of the issue is helpful, but does not address how Snapchat still gives users the option to share short-lived content anonymously.


In March of 2023, Colorado’s state government released a report that discussed the connection between social media and the opioid crisis. In the report, Colorado urges the federal government to address the flow of illegal drugs to their community and calls on social media companies to restrict the distribution of these deadly substances via their platforms. In the meantime, while we wait on changes in these systems, parents can provide oversight of their children’s use of social media.


Operation Parent is a non-profit that works to support families by sharing information and strategies to promote safe social media use. Their site features a number of webinars that discusses drug use prevention among youth as well as ways to set boundaries over their use of technology, which the organization refers to as “digital parenting.”


If you have a child or teen that uses technology (and lets face it, they all do these days) we encourage you to check out the webinars Operation Parent has to offer at: https://operationparent.org/webinars




By sharing up-to-date information about the connection between social media and illegal drug use, we hope to bring awareness of this public health crisis. We appreciate your attention and thank you for reading this week’s blog. Stay tuned for our next blog to kick off the New Year!

Sources 

1.       American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2018). Social Media and Teens. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Social-Media-and-Teens-100.aspx#:~:text=Surveys%20show%20that%20ninety%20percent,media%20site%20at%20least%20daily

2.        Colorado Attorney General (2023). Attorney General Phil Weiser releases Colorado social media and fentanyl report. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://coag.gov/press-releases/3-8-23/

3.       Maricopa Attorney General’s Office (2021). The Connection Between Snapchat and Fentanyl. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.maricopacountyattorney.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=844

4.       NBC News (2023). Relatives of more than 60 young people who died of fentanyl overdoses file expanded lawsuit against Snapchat. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/60-young-people-died-fentanyl-overdoses-lawsuit-snapchat-rcna81629

5.       Operation Parent (2023). Organization Website. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.operationparent.org/

 

Images

1.       Mental Floss (2023). Smart phone with social media apps. Last viewed December 11, 2023. Available at: https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/defunct-social-media-platforms

2.       NBC News (2023). Relatives taking action in keeping Snapchat accountable. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/60-young-people-died-fentanyl-overdoses-lawsuit-snapchat-rcna81629

3.       Operation Parent (2023). Operation Parent logo. Last viewed December 21, 2023. Available at: https://www.operationparent.org/


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