FAI: Adolescents vulnerable to drug traffickers on social media

ByDonald L. Leech

Jan 9, 2022

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Gone are the days of buying drugs from unknown dealers on the street.

There is also no need to browse the dark web – not when individuals can connect with local and distant resellers on popular messaging apps among young people.

With deadly fentanyl-containing pills flooding northern Idaho and the drug trade booming on social media, local law enforcement wants teens and parents to understand the dangers of these substances.

“It’s not (teenagers) finding dodgy dudes on a street corner,” Idaho State Police Captain John Kempf said. “They find shady guys on their phones.”

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is generally used to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery.

The prevalence of fentanyl in northern Idaho is relatively recent.

The first time Kempf met him was in 2019, during a drug seizure in Post Falls, where police seized large amounts of black tar heroin – then the predominant illicit opioid – as well. than about 8,000 fentanyl pills.

At the time, there was no demand for fentanyl.

“They couldn’t sell (the pills), so they mixed them with heroin,” Kempf said.

Now the stuff is flooding the local market.

According to the Coeur d’Alene Police Department, about one in six counterfeit pills circulating in northern Idaho contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Illicit drugs are often diluted with cheaper materials in order to stretch the product.

Because it is cheaper to produce than other opioids, fentanyl is a popular choice to mix with other drugs, such as heroin and methamphetamine.

There is no quality control when it comes to counterfeit pills.

One pill can have a dose that gets someone high, while another from the same batch has enough fentanyl to kill the user.

“You can smoke half a pill now and the other half later and the second half has the lethal dose that kills you,” Kempf said.

In 2019, there were 24 overdose-related deaths in Kootenai County.

That number soared in 2020, when 33 people died from drug overdoses. Of these deaths, eight were related to fentanyl.

A total of 33 people died from overdoses in Kootenai County last year – with 16 fentanyl-related deaths, twice as many as the year before.

Five of these deaths occurred in the same week.

Among them was a 15-year-old student from Lake City High School who died after taking a counterfeit pill designed to look like a legitimate drug.

Fentanyl pills – called “mexis” or “mexi-blues” – are stamped to look like prescription narcotics like Oxycontin or Xanax.

While some people intentionally search for mexis, others believe they are buying legitimate prescription pills.

Adolescents and other new drug users are particularly vulnerable to deception.

“As recently as this summer, we had dealers selling to kids, advertising their pills as legit and non-Mexican,” Kempf said.

Word is spreading about the dangers of fentanyl, but it is nearly impossible for users to know for sure whether the pills they have purchased contain the substance.

Fentanyl is tasteless, odorless, and too small to see. There is no way to tell if a substance contains a potentially fatal amount of fentanyl by examining it.

Medicines purchased from “reliable sources” are no safer than medicines purchased from foreigners. The pills are mixed with fentanyl long before they reach the dealers, friends and acquaintances who distribute them.

Kempf said young people are often more inclined to experiment with pills than other forms of opioids.

Taking pills is less stigmatizing than smoking or injecting drugs, Kempf said, which makes the mental barrier easier to overcome.

“It’s a pill, not a needle,” Kempf said.

The problem is exacerbated by easy access to illegal pills through social media.

Although the use of different social media platforms increases and decreases, ISP sleuth Tim Snell said the Snapchat messaging app has remained popular among teens and drug dealers ever since.

The app allows users to post and exchange photos and videos that disappear after being viewed.

Snell said resellers on Snapchat use emojis and code language to let their friends and followers know what they are selling.

“Snapchat’s structure makes it easy,” he said.

To crack down on the sale of counterfeit pills on the platform, Snapchat has developed new educational tools and content in 2021.

The company said improvements to detection tools – which use artificial intelligence to identify images, words, and emojis linked to drug sales – helped Snapchat increase the number of deleted accounts by 112%. in the first half of 2021.

Snell said resellers also use encrypted messaging apps, such as Telegram and WhatsApp, to protect themselves from detection.

While apps aren’t inherently bad, Snell advised parents to be aware that their teens use multiple encrypted messaging apps.

It could be a red flag, he said – and it could be the starting point for a vital conversation about the dangers of illicit pills.

“It has to start with the parents,” ISP Detective Jess Stennett said. “Chat with your kids. Educate each other on what is going on in your life.

Parents should also be careful of drug paraphernalia, such as burnt tin foil.

Young people live in an uncertain and rapidly changing world, Kempf said, amid a pandemic that has disrupted all aspects of life.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a kid now,” he said.

This is why adolescents need support and good information from their parents.

Education is essential, Kempf said, as are resources to help those struggling with drug addiction.

“We have to have drug rehabs and ways to treat people,” he said.

Snell said tackling the opioid crisis in northern Idaho is an uphill battle – one law enforcement cannot tackle on its own.

It will also require the cooperation and support of local public health agencies and people at the individual level.

“Opioid addiction is extremely powerful, more than people who don’t struggle with it can figure out,” he said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”

ISP offers informative presentations on the fentanyl crisis to groups in northern Idaho.

To arrange a presentation, contact Captain John Kempf: 208-243-4287.