The Federal Bureau of Investigation is examining Snapchat’s role as a tool for drug dealers to dispense fentanyl to young people across the U.S., according to a Bloomberg report published Wednesday.
The media outlet said FBI and attorneys associated with the Department of Justice are probing fentanyl poisoning cases where the sales were arranged via Snapchat.
Federal law enforcement agencies have interviewed families of children who died due to fentanyl poisoning and are seeking to access their social media accounts to see how drug dealers arranged these deals.
In a statement emailed to Bloomberg, a Snap spokesperson said the company is “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.”
Snapchat has long been a popular social media app for teenagers and children since its launch more than a decade ago.
As of Q3 2022, Snapchat had 363 million daily active users, according to research from marketing intelligence startup Demand Sage, with more than 80% of teenagers in the U.S. using the app at least once a month.
Teens and children who increasingly use mobile devices and social media apps are subject to multiple risks on these platforms, especially when it comes to being targeted by drug dealers.
The rise of fentanyl has also created a spike in drug overdose deaths among high school students in the U.S. since 2019, according to a study published in JAMA in April 2022. Researchers attributed the rising fatalities to the influx of counterfeit pills that look like real medicines but may contain fentanyl, which even in small doses can be lethal.
Given Snapchat’s appeal among young people, the Ad Council has enlisted its help, alongside other tech giants, in promoting several fentanyl awareness campaigns over the past year.
As part of a two-part campaign over the summer, the Ad Council launched a public awareness effort about the national overdose epidemic targeting teens and young adults thanks to creative led by JOAN and support from Snap, Google and Meta.
In the fall, the Ad Council again leaned on JOAN, Snap and other tech players for its Real Deal on Fentanyl campaign to educate children and teens on the dangers of fentanyl through messages delivered by former drug dealers.
Additionally, Bloomberg’s reporting coincided with a hearing Wednesday held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the role of large technology companies and the ongoing fentanyl epidemic.
News of the FBI and DOJ interest in Snapchat as a facilitator of fentanyl deals also comes days after the family of Ciara Gilliam, a 22-year-old woman who died after taking a fentanyl-laced pill, sued Snap over her death.
The lawsuit alleges that Snapchat’s features connected Gilliam to a dealer who sold her a Xanax laced with fentanyl which resulted in her death.
In response to a request for comment from KCCI, a Snap spokesperson said the company is “committed to bringing every resource to bear to help fight this national crisis.”