Rise in teens buy­ing il­le­gal drugs on so­cial me­dia

Daily Mail - - News - By Fiona Parker

CHIL­DREN as young as 13 are us­ing so­cial me­dia sites such as In­sta­gram and Snapchat to buy il­le­gal drugs, ex­perts claimed yes­ter­day.

The wor­ry­ing trend has de­vel­oped in the past 18 months, ac­cord­ing to youth work­ers who say deal­ers use hash­tags and emo­jis to ad­ver­tise what they stock.

And buy­ing through the sites mean young peo­ple are more likely to buy the sub­stances from strangers, a more dan­ger­ous way of ob­tain­ing drugs.

Nick Hick­mott, of the char­ity Young Ad­dac­tion, said: ‘In the last 18 months we have gone from this way of get­ting drugs not be­ing men­tioned at all among the young peo­ple we work with to now nearly ev­ery young per­son talk­ing about it. It is dis­turb­ing.’

He claimed that the pic­ture shar­ing apps In­sta­gram and Snapchat tended to be the plat­forms most used for deal­ing. Deal­ers re­port­edly share im­ages of the drugs, be­fore pro­vid­ing al­ter­na­tive con­tact de­tails for po­ten­tial pur­chases.

While cannabis is cur­rently the most preva­lent drug sold via so­cial me­dia, deal­ers are also us­ing the sites to sell ec­stasy.

Xanax, a drug used to treat anx­i­ety dis­or­ders and panic at­tacks, has also been touted via the apps. Most deals then take place on other plat­forms, such as the en­crypted messeny­oung ger app Wickr. Mr Hick­mott said his or­gan­i­sa­tion, the youth branch of Ad­dac­tion, Bri­tain’s largest drug and al­co­hol char­ity, worked with young­sters aged ten to 24. But many of those it helped were aged 13 to 17.

‘They are the ones talk­ing about this and the rea­son we are see­ing this rise is be­cause of the growth of so­cial me­dia,’ he told The Guardian.

Mr Hick­mott said his big­gest con­cern was for teenagers buy­ing from strangers.

‘Es­sen­tially, if a dealer knows you, they are far less likely to want to see you ripped off or end up in hos­pi­tal,’ he said.

Ian Hamil­ton, a lec­turer in men­tal health at York Uni­ver­sity, said: ‘I would be in favour of so­cial me­dia net­works tak­ing the prob­lem more se­ri­ously.’

Ear­lier this year, one of the coun­try’s largest drug gangs told a BBC doc­u­men­tary that 75 per cent of their tak­ings now come through so­cial me­dia trans­ac­tions, us­ing ‘dig­i­tal­savvy’ school pupils. Film-maker Stacey Doo­ley con­fronted the deal­ers, high­light­ing the ease with which il­le­gal trans­ac­tions can be ar­ranged.

Sta­tis­tics sug­gest Snapchat has around 178mil­lion daily ac­tive users and is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar with teenagers.

In­sta­gram, which is owned by Face­book, said it en­cour­aged peo­ple to re­port any con­tent that could vi­o­late its guide­lines. A spokesman told The Guardian:

‘Dan­ger of buy­ing from strangers’

‘The In­sta­gram com­mu­nity must fol­low the law and the sale of il­le­gal or pre­scrip­tion drugs, even if le­gal in a spe­cific re­gion, is not al­lowed.

‘We en­cour­age any­one who comes across con­tent like this to re­port it via our in- built re­port­ing tools. Our global re­view team checks these re­ports 24/7, and as soon as we are made aware of vi­o­lat­ing con­tent we work quickly to re­move it.’ Snapchat said it took its re­spon­si­bil­ity to cre­ate a safe and se­cure ex­pe­ri­ence se­ri­ously. It had ‘an ac­tive trust and safety team’ that re­sponded to re­ports and con­cerns within 24 hours.

A spokesman added: ‘There is no place for sell­ing drugs on Snapchat. We en­cour­age any­one who sees some­thing like this any­where to al­ways re­port it.’

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