Investigators are looking into Snapchat’s alleged role in fentanyl-laced pills being distributed through the popular video and messaging app. Bloomberg is reporting that the FBI and Justice Department’s investigation is part of a broader probe into the nation’s counterfeit drug problem.
An anonymous source told Bloomberg that the FBI has interviewed the parents of children who have died due to fentanyl poisoning by pills allegedly obtained on the app. They’re also working to trace who supplied the drugs by gaining access to their social media accounts. An FBI spokesperson told the outlet that they would not confirm or deny reports of the ongoing investigation, while the Justice Department declined to comment.
Snapchat’s parent company, Snap Inc., released a transparency report in November which showed of the 775,145 drug reports it received last year, it only enforced 270,810, which amounted to 4.8% of the total reported content.
A Snap spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Gizmodo, “We are 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.”
The company has reportedly been working to shut down the drug trade which has surged on the app which deletes conversations after an allotted period of time. Snap now blocks drug-related search results, instead directing users to resources provided by experts, explaining the dangers of fentanyl.
The spokesperson said the company is working to bring drug dealers “to justice” by expanding its support for investigations and working with experts to recognize activity patterns that will allow them to more quickly identify possible dealers and stop illegal behavior in its tracks.
“We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic, including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families, and nonprofits,” the spokesperson said.
According to subpoenaed records, Bloomberg reported that the teenagers and young adults had thought they were buying prescription painkillers which turned out to be fentanyl—a potentially fatal drug that is 100 times more potent than morphine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 107,000 Americans died of an overdose between 2021 and 2022, and about 67% of those deaths were primarily caused by fentanyl. The CDC has called the fentanyl overdose rate an epidemic in the U.S. and found that fentanyl-related deaths jumped 182% between 2019 and 2021.
The reported investigation into Snap’s purported role in fentanyl distribution comes as parents of the children who unknowingly overdosed, filed a lawsuit, claiming Snap “encouraged, enabled, and facilitated” counterfeit sales of pills containing fentanyl, The Sacramento Bee reported. The lawsuit also claims that Snap allows drug dealers to connect with a “never-ending source of vulnerable customers” while limiting parental supervision because of its My Eyes Only feature.
When asked about the pending litigation, the Snap spokesperson declined to comment, but said, “The trafficking of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl is an urgent national crisis. We are devastated that these counterfeit drugs have taken the lives of so many people, and our hearts go out to families who have suffered unimaginable losses.”
The spokesperson continued, “We are committed to bringing every resource to bear to help fight this national crisis, both on Snapchat and across the tech industry overall.”
Updated 1/25/2023 at 4:48 p.m. ET: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that 4.8% of drug-related posts were enforced. This has been changed to reflect that drug-related enforcement amounted to 4.8% of all reports Snap received.