DoJ and FBI begin probe into Snapchat’s role in fentanyl poisoning deaths

DoJ and FBI ‘examines’ Snapchat’s role in burgeoning fentanyl poisoning crisis among children – as part of wider probe into buying drugs online

  • Federal agencies are said to be examining Snapchat’s role in the fentanyl epidemic
  • The app is also being sued by grieving parents blaming it for their children’s deaths after they arranged to meet with drug dealers on Snapchat
  • Snapchat says it is continuing to improve its technology to steer users away from drugs and will continue to work with law enforcement 

Federal agencies are said to be examining Snapchat‘s role in the growing fentanyl epidemic as part of a larger probe into the sale of deadly counterfeit drugs.

Agents with the FBI and attorneys at the DOJ are now looking into fentanyl poisoning cases, in which sales of the deadly drug were arranged on the messaging app, Bloomberg reports, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation.

At the same time, the app is being sued by grieving parents blaming it for their children’s deaths after they arranged to meet with drug dealers on Snapchat.

A spokeswoman for Snapchat told DailyMail.com the company is not aware of any investigations — but said the company would cooperate with law enforcement efforts.    

‘We are committed to doing our part to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis, which includes using cutting-edge technology to help us proactively find and shut down drug dealers’ accounts,’ spokeswoman Rachel Racusen said in a statement to DailyMail.com.

Federal investigators are said to be looking into Snapchat's role in the fentanyl epidemic

Federal investigators are said to be looking into Snapchat’s role in the fentanyl epidemic

‘We are committed to doing our part to fight the national fentanyl poisoning crisis, which includes using cutting-edge technology to help us proactively find and shut down drug dealers’ accounts,’ she said, explaining that the app blocks search results for drug-related terms and redirect users to resources detailing the dangers of fentanyl.

She added: ‘We continually expand our support for law enforcement investigations, helping them bring dealers to justice, and we work closely with experts to share patterns of dealers’ activities across platforms to more quickly identify and stop illegal behavior.

‘We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic, including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families and nonprofits.’.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic drug, which last year killed an American every seven minutes

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic drug, which last year killed an American every seven minutes

According to Bloomberg, FBI agents have already interviewed the parents of children who died after taking fentanyl and are working to access their social media accounts to trace who supplied them with the deadly drugs.

Experts say dealers have flocked to the app due to its encryption technology and its feature which ensures messages disappear. 

Subpoena records obtained by the outlet show teenagers using the app thought they were illegally buying prescription painkillers, but were instead handed pure fentanyl — which is 100 times more deadly than morphine. 

Families of the victims have claimed that Snapchat is the platform of choice for arranging drug deals because of its encrypted technology and disappearing messages.

Former White House drug czar Jim Carroll also said the drug dealers use the app because it is popular among younger users.

‘From everything I have read, I do believe that Snapchat has been more widely used for facilitating drug sales than other platforms,’ Carroll, who serves on Snap Inc’s Safety Advisory Council and now works for Michael Best Consulting told Bloomberg.

‘I think that’s because of its popularity among the young.’

Snapchat executives say they are continuing to improve the technology to steer users away from drugs, and will continue to work with law enforcement to crack down on those who use its app to conduct drug deals 

Former White House drug czar Jim Carroll said he thinks drug dealers are using the app because it is popular amongst teenagers. He is pictured here in 2019 showing off a block of cocaine officials seized from a ship at a Philadelphia port

Former White House drug czar Jim Carroll said he thinks drug dealers are using the app because it is popular amongst teenagers. He is pictured here in 2019 showing off a block of cocaine officials seized from a ship at a Philadelphia port

In December, Snap Inc. — the parent company of Snapchat — reported it had 363million daily users.

That same month, Bloomberg reports, the National Crime Prevention Council wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging the Justice Department to investigate Snapchat and its business practices.

It claimed that the app allows drug dealers ‘to market and sell fake pills to unsuspecting teens and tweens.’

Garland never responded, according to Bloomberg, but federal investigators are now asking questions about the company’s business practices. 

The FBI, though, would neither confirm nor deny an investigation to Bloomberg, and the Justice Department declined to comment. 

Authorities have said teenagers are often taking fentanyl under false pretenses, thinking they are taking some other substance. A whopping 92.5 pounds of the illicit drug was seized in April by the Alameda County Task Force in California

Authorities have said teenagers are often taking fentanyl under false pretenses, thinking they are taking some other substance. A whopping 92.5 pounds of the illicit drug was seized in April by the Alameda County Task Force in California

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to discuss tech company’s involvement in the ongoing fentanyl crisis.

One of the speakers will be Laura Marquez-Garrett, an attorney with the Social Media Victims Law Center, who said the committee will specifically focus on Snapchat.

She is representing dozens of families across the United States who are suing the social media giant, claiming it aided and abetted in the sale of counterfeit pills to kids.

They argue that Snapchat was slow to respond to police subpoenas, and can take months to remove known drug dealers from its platform.

In one of these lawsuits, filed in the Superior Court of California, families claim one drug dealer who used Snapchat was responsible for the deaths of two people in Orange County.

The suit alleges 14-year-old Alexander Neville and 20-year-old Daniel Elijah Figueroa both purchased what they thought were prescription painkillers from deals arranged on the app.

It claims that just two days before Neville died, he told his mother he had purchased Oxycodone from somebody on Snapchat, saying he was afraid because he already wanted more.

His mother, Amy, then booked him into a treatment facility, but found him the next morning lying dead on his bedroom floor. 

‘I don’t understand how he could have taken so much oxy he died,’ she told Bloomberg. ‘That was the day we learned about fentanyl.’

In the aftermath, Bloomberg reports, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency subpoenaed Snapchat for Neville’s messages, which showed evidence he met with a dealer called Aj Smokxy.

Three months later, Figueroa was found slumped over a bed at his grandmother’s house, and local police once again subpoenaed the social media company for his messages.

They found he had arranged to purchase Percocet from a dealer who used the Snapchat account Arnoldo_8286, who allegedly used Aj Smokxy as a supplier.

The above CDC graph shows estimated (dotted line) and confirmed (black line) drug overdose deaths in the US since 2015. There has been a small downturn, which may just be fatalities returning to pre-pandemic levels

The above CDC graph shows estimated (dotted line) and confirmed (black line) drug overdose deaths in the US since 2015. There has been a small downturn, which may just be fatalities returning to pre-pandemic levels

Snap Inc. insists it is working with law enforcement throughout the country to tamp down on illegal activity on its app, and boosted moderation efforts to detect illegal drug sales.

The company uses machine-learning technology to proactively detect drug activity on its platform, and is working with the DEA  to identify illicit drug-related content on other platforms that direct users to its app in an effort to proactively identify drug dealers’ accounts and shut them down.

Snap Inc. is also working with Senators Roger Marshall, a Republican from Maryland, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat from New Hampshire, to support bipartisan legislation that would establish a standardized reporting regime for social media companies that would better enable the DEA to locate drug cartels.

Additionally, a spokeswoman for Snap Inc told DailyMail.com, the company began a pilot program with Meta — the parent company of Facebook and Instagram — to share patterns of drug-related content and activity on their platforms.

It is also continuing to improve response times, and in cases of imminent threats, a team typically responds within 30 minutes. 

And, the spokeswoman told DailyMail.com, it added new protections to prevent users under the age of 18 from showing up in search results or as a friend suggestion to someone else unless they have multiple friends in common and has released an in-app parental tool called the Family Center to empower parents to see all of the friends their teens are communicate with and report any concerning accounts. 

But Snapchat is not the only way teenagers are connecting with drug dealers online.

Research conducted by the Tech Transparency Project last year showed Instagram was pushing drug-related content to teen accounts.

It found that the social media platform continued to suggest hashtags related to buying illegal substances to children as young as 13, NBC News reports. 

This map shows the change in overdose deaths over the 12 months to June 2022 compared to the 12 months to June 2021

This map shows the change in overdose deaths over the 12 months to June 2022 compared to the 12 months to June 2021

Over the last year, fentanyl drove a 44 percent rise in overdose deaths, which reached 107,000 in the 12 months to January 2022 — more than gun and motor vehicle deaths combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

It is 50-100 times stronger than morphine, with one year’s supply of pure fentanyl powder for America’s market estimated to fit in the beds of two pickup trucks.

Users often have no clue they are taking fentanyl, and in many cases are even trying to avoid the cheaper, dangerous substitute.

The overdose rate is high because of fentanyl’s potency. DEA tests show that four in ten pills sold in the US have at least 2mg of fentanyl — the equivalent of about five grains of salt — a dose that is considered potentially lethal. 

The agency warns that ‘one pill can kill’.

In Seattle, some local coroner’s offices are now at capacity or have nearly run out of space for the bodies of those who died from overdoses. 

‘A key indication of just how bad things are at the end of 2022 and likely to get worse [in] 2023, the medical examiner’s office is now struggling with the issue of storing bodies because the fentanyl-related death toll continues to climb,’ Seattle-King County Public Health Director Dr. Faisal Khan recently said. 

Officials raised alarms back in October when they reported more than 700 overdose deaths in the first 10 months of the year, more than all of 2021. 

Already In the first three weeks of 2023, 35 overdose deaths have occurred in King County, according to local outlets

Source

Related posts