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Snapchat fights drug trafficking on the app amid spike in youth overdose deaths | Snapchat

Snapchat has announced new efforts to combat drug trafficking on the platform, changes that come as drug-related deaths among US high school and college youth rise.

The company said it has improved automated drug detection systems, improved partnerships with law enforcement and launched a new portal that educates users about the dangers of drugs.

“Our position on this has always been clear: We have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat,” the company said. in a blog post announcing the move this week. “We have a unique opportunity to use our voice, technology and resources to help confront this scourge, which threatens the lives of members of our community.”

The new steps come after the CDC warned at the end of 2021 of a significant increase in drug overdoses caused by fentanyl, with young people being the most affected. The cheap, synthetic opioid is up to 100 times more potent than heroin and is often mixed with counterfeit pills that young people buy on social media, mistaking them for pharmaceutical drugs.

Fentanyl deaths rose to more than 93,000 in 2020, a 32% increase from 2019. According to a recent Guardian analysis of federal data, young people under the age of 24 have been the hardest hit, with a 50% increase % in drug deaths in that age group.

“Every medicine he tests now is a game of Russian roulette,” Shabbir Safdar, director of the Association for Safe Medicines, a non-profit organization that fights pharmaceutical counterfeits, previously told The Guardian.

Studies have shown that pills labeled Oxycontin, Percocet, Xanax, or Adderall are available on platforms like Snapchat, Instagram, and Craigslist. TO recent report of the Tech Transparency Project (TTP) found that Instagram offers an instant “drug pipeline” for kids that allowed them to find drugs with just a few clicks.

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Snapchat said it increased its proactive detection of drug sales by 390% last year, increasing them by 50% in the last quarter alone. It added that when its systems detect drug dealing activity, the account is immediately locked out and the creator cannot create new accounts on Snapchat.

The company said it increased collaborations with law enforcement and improved response times to law enforcement inquiries by 85% over the past year.

In its blog post, Snap said it is working with experts to continually update the list of slang and drug-related terms blocked from search results on Snapchat.

Other platforms should also take action to stop the massive rise in online drug trafficking, said Christine Elgersma, senior editor at the child safety nonprofit Common Sense Media.

“This is not just a Snapchat issue,” he said.

In fact, Instagram executive Adam Mosseri faced questions on the matter in a 2021 congressional hearing.

“Why are kids’ accounts even allowed to search for drug content to begin with, let alone allowed to do so in a way that leads them to a drug dealer in two clicks?” asked Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah.

“Accounts that sell drugs or any other regulated product are not allowed on the platform,” Mosseri said. Instagram has previously said it uses technology to proactively remove a large number of drug-related posts.

Parents of children who died from fentanyl overdoses previously shared screenshots of Snapchat accounts selling pills with The Guardian. One woman, Perla Mendoza, said her 20-year-old son died in September 2020 after buying fake Xanax.

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“It was a deadly pill that was strong enough to kill four adults,” said Mendoza, who hopes other parents get a chance to warn their children before it’s too late. “I feel like a lot of parents say, ‘My kids don’t like that.’ Well, mine doesn’t either,” he said. “But that’s what the kids get.”

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