Resource officer warns of drug deals on Snapchat, urges students to use reporting features

School resource officer warns of illegal drug deals on social media, urges students to use Snapchat reporting features
Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:41 AM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The popular social media app Snapchat is developing new measures to try to stop drug deals on its platform. The move is in response to the growing fentanyl crisis around the country.

The CDC reported last year more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States over a 12-month period. Fentanyl was a major driver of that spike.

Marana Middle School says drug sales using Snapchat are reported about once a month. Because students are afraid of retaliation for reporting, the school says it’s most likely happening more often.

“Snapchat is the route of a lot of problems at this age, not just drug sales but a lot of problems,” said Ashley Espinoza, school resource officer with the Marana Police Department. “It’s not just drugs, it can be the tools to use the drugs. Vapes, anything that’s illegal for them to get at this age, they can get ahold of.”

Snapchat is now providing important in-app resources to those dealing with drug addiction. The company is reporting it has increased the detection of drugs on its app by nearly 400%, meaning nearly 88% of drug-related content is now detected. That change has grown its partnership with police by 74%.

Despite all these changes, Espinoza said students could still be at risk. She said students post to their stories asking for drugs. Dealers are then able to contact minors and set up a buy through their story post.

“They’ll take a picture of the sky, take a picture of their shoes, and just say they’re looking for whatever drug it is,” Espinoza said. “They’ll put that on their story and if they have a friend who knows how to find it, they’ll reply to them and put them in contact with the dealer. It’s super easy for them to get ahold of any drug they’re looking for.”

Snapchat has recently implemented a new safeguard to “Quick Add,” their friend suggestion feature, to further protect 13- to 17-year-olds. In order to be discoverable in “Quick Add” by someone else, users under 18 will need to have a certain number of friends in common with that person, further ensuring it is a friend they know in real life.

Espinoza said she believes the app is working to combat the drug crisis but said parents should be monitoring their child’s social media daily to ensure they’re safe. She said daily monitoring is especially important because story posts on Snapchat disappear in 24 hours.

“Looking at not only what they’re posting but what the people they’re following are posting, because these dealers will advertise their product on their stories. They will post pictures of what they’re selling, and it’s so easy to view that on their stories,” Espinoza said. “So if parents just get ahold of their child’s phone, look at those stories and see who they’re following.”

Espinoza said she has an open-door policy and encourages students to not only report illegal activity they see within the app but to come to her or another trusted adult whenever they see illegal drug activity within Snapchat.

“I get the opportunity to teach in the classroom, I get to teach kids about law-related topics, and Snapchat is one of the most common things I talk about, social media in general,” Espinoza said. “Snapchat actually has a feature where they can anonymously report these accounts and I encourage them to utilize that feature. I also have an open door policy and encourage kids to come in and report whenever they need to. They oftentimes do report things they’re seeing on Snapchat.”

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