EARLY YEARS: Snapchat and other social media being used by drug dealers to target kids

Recent overdose death of TV therapist Laura Berman’s teenage son has brought new attention to the issue
Published: Feb. 24, 2021 at 6:03 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A couple weeks ago, celebrity TV therapist Laura Berman revealed her 16-year-old son had died of a drug overdose.

Berman said a drug dealer had connected with him on Snapchat, and sold him a prescription drug laced with fentanyl.

“Specifically, the reason why Snapchat is utilized in this way is because- the way that the app itself is set up is pretty much once it is opened and looked at, it disappears,” says Ashley Richardson, who visits classrooms and talks to kids and teens through her work with the Prevention Council of Roanoke County.

She hears first hand just how easy it is for parents to miss the codes kids use on social media.

“They’re using pictures and acronyms. They’re not even speaking in sentences. Things like a maple leaf are being utilized for marijuana, Richardson says.

Snapchat is one of the most popular apps for buying and selling drugs, because the messages automatically disappear.

Profiles and accounts can also be created and deleted quickly.

“You can find a plethora of profile names. And you can just add these people on Snapchat. These are based on Bitmojis, so it’s not actually a human face as a profile picture,” says Richardson.

Nancy Hans is the executive director of the Prevention Council.

She says the pandemic has made kids an even bigger target, since they’re having to be online more.

“This is like stranger danger. But it’s 2021,” says Hans.

Hans say it’s crucial that parents also keep themselves in check, when it comes to social media..

“We need to check ourselves. How much time are we, how many apps are we on?”

Hans and Richardson say parents need to educate themselves all the time about social media risks, and be aware of what their kids are doing online.

“The teenage brain is just not developed enough yet to truly be able to make those decisions on their own. There’s got to be parental supervision,” says Richardson.

Teachable moments, like the Berman story, can help get important conversations started.

Richardson says to ask your kids what’s happening in their lives.

Make it a dialogue, not an interrogation.

Richardson says, “Ultimately at the end of the day, if you are not talking to your kids, and you think you know what’s going on, you probably don’t.”

Snapchat has also issued a response, saying in part, “We have zero tolerance for using Snapchat to buy or sell illegal drugs.”

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