DEA tells TikTok, Snapchat, and Instagram to do more to stop online drug sales

Laura Berman.
(Image credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

As the number of accidental drug overdoses continues to soar in the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration is calling on social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok to do more about drug dealers on their platforms.

Earlier this week, the DEA issued a warning about an increase in the number of fake pills being sold online that are laced with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that can be deadly in trace amounts. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram told The Washington Post that Snapchat and TikTok are not doing enough to stop drug sales, and the DEA will soon ask them to take specific steps toward getting all dealers off their platforms.

Social media companies say they have tried to combat the problem by hiring more moderators and tweaking algorithms used to spot illegal items for sale, but law enforcement and the families of overdose victims say there should be more parental controls on the sites and data should be shared to catch people working on multiple platforms. Law enforcement says in many cases, a drug dealer will first connect with someone on one site, then go to another to make the deal and a third to accept payment.

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In 2020, more than 93,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, up almost 30 percent from 2019. In February, 16-year-old Sammy Chapman died after he took pills he purchased online that contained fentanyl. His parents, television host and therapist Laura Berman and Sam Chapman, say he met a dealer on Snapchat who used a colorful menu to advertise his offerings. They are working to get Congress to pass a bill requiring social media sites to integrate parental monitoring software, but privacy advocates have argued this could hurt kids who do not want their parents knowing about some aspects of their life, like their sexuality.

Sam Chapman told the Post that Snapchat said it has those same concerns, which he couldn't understand. "We're trying to protect from criminals," Chapman said, "and they're talking about privacy."

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