NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


'The drug dealers are in your homes': Kids targeted through social media

social media.png
Posted at 3:00 PM, Feb 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-04 11:53:53-05

SHAWNEE, Kan. — Federal investigators are warning parents about social media’s role in helping kids get their hands on dangerous drugs.

The KSHB 41 I-Team has been looking into the fentanyl crisis in the Kansas City areaand found out what online tools drug dealers are using to target kids.

“The drug dealers are in your homes. They’re on the kids’ phones and those drugs can be delivered to your front door if they ask for it,” Libby Davis said.

Davis and her husband, Randy, know all too well how dangerous drugs can change a family’s life.

“Every day is a different challenge. Some days you have great days, some days you have really bad days,” Randy Davis said.

Their 16-year-old son, Cooper, died from a fentanyl overdose after taking half of what he thought was a Percocet pill. His mom said he bought it from a dealer on Snapchat.

She and her husband remember the call from the Shawnee Police Department saying their son was having a medical emergency. That happened nearly six months ago.

“Sadly, we have now been introduced to a world of parents who have lost children to fentanyl pills,” Libby Davis said.

In December, the DEA administrator held a news conference about the battle against fake prescription pills. The agency said they’re coming from Mexico and they’re not hard to get.

“What is equally troubling is the cartels have harnessed the perfect drug delivery tool – social media,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said.

With social media apps like Snapchat and Instagram, the DEA says anyone who has a smartphone has access to a drug dealer, and that easy access frightens DEA agents like Rogeana Patterson-King.

“With them targeting our youth, the way they are being targeted, I just want to scream sometimes because it’s frustrating for us,” Patterson-King said.

There’s a whole language drug dealers use to target kids online — largely through emojis.

To combat the issue, the DEA said it works with social media companies to make them aware of the emojis.

The KSHB 41 I-Team contacted Snap Inc who owns Snapchat. In response to Cooper’s case, the company issued the following statement.

"The tragic drug epidemic requires urgent action and we are determined to do our part to eradicate drug sales on Snapchat. We have raised awareness of the dangers of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl directly in our app to inform young people of the deadly consequences. We use cutting edge technology including machine learning tools to proactively detect and remove drug-related content on Snapchat. We also use third-party detection tools to scan other platforms where drug dealers may be trying to contact Snapchatters. We work with law enforcement and partner with parent groups, safety organizations, and experts who inform all of these practices, and we constantly evaluate where we can keep strengthening our work to combat this illegal activity."

In January, Snap Inc told the KSHB 41 I-Team it added new resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and partnerships with two anti-drug organizations to educate and warn about the dangers of fentanyl.

The company said its detection rates of drug-related content have doubled since October and 88% of that content on its platform is now discovered by its artificial intelligence technology.

Meta who owns Instagram and Facebook said it’s against their policies to “buy, sell or trade non-medical or pharmaceutical drugs.”

The company also shared more about its policies:

  • According to our Community Standards, violating content includes:  
  • Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or solicit non-medical drugs or speaks positively, encourages, coordinates or provides instructions for use or make of non-medical drugs. 
  • Content that attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or solicit pharmaceutical drugs. 
  • We use technology, reports from our community and reviews by our teams to enforce these policies.  
  • Meta partners with federal, state and local authorities, as well as non-profits, on innovative ways they can use social media as a tool to respond to the opioid epidemic. 
  • For example, we support Song For Charlie in its efforts to raise awareness of counterfeit pills, and the risks they pose to young people. Song For Charlie uses Facebook and Instagram to educate people on the dangers of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills. 
  • Similarly, Meta and Partnership to End Addiction – a leading nonprofit working to transform how the nation addresses addiction – have been working together since 2019 and recently launched the Stop Opioid Silence campaign to help break down the stigma of addiction that so often prevents people from getting the help that they need.  
  • People mostly find drug content by searching for it. So when people search for drugs on Facebook and Instagram we direct them to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline to help educate people about the risks, in an effort to prevent drug misuse. 
  • In addition, we routinely respond to valid law enforcement requests for information, including those related to activity like illegal drug sales. 

”It hit really close to home this time, but we couldn’t be silent and we needed to use Cooper’s story as quickly as we could to have the most impact especially on our community,” Libby Davis said.

Since Cooper’s death, his parents have worked with the DEA to educate students and parents about the dangers of drugs. Their campaign is called Keepin Clean For Coop.

So far, they’ve spoken with two high schools in Unified School District No. 232 and hope to expand it to the entire district.

“Our mission is to raise awareness. We want everyone to understand how dangerous it is and what a risk it is if you take a pill that wasn’t prescribed by your doctor,” Libby Davis said.

The DEA said parents need to talk with their kids about the drugs that are out there and the dangers they pose.

We want to hear from you on what resources Kansas City families might benefit from to help us all through the pandemic. If you have five minutes, feel free to fill out this survey to help guide our coverage: KSHB COVID Survey.