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'Same day delivery': Parents warn of fentanyl dealers targeting kids on Snapchat

Countless dealers are now advertising on the social media app Snapchat using a cryptic code of emojis.

SKAGIT COUNTY, Wash. — Using a cryptic code of emojis, substances are being sold to kids via Snapchat, but the one that has people worried the most is fentanyl, a lethal opioid 50 times stronger than heroin.T

As students file into their Mount Vernon High School health class, one of them has been before.

Tyler Gelatt graduated from Mount Vernon in 2016 and he’s returning to his alma mater with a homecoming message that hits at the heart of an ongoing epidemic.

“I’m just kinda here to give you my experience,” said Tyler as he shuffled his feet nervously in front of the class.

Tyler’s experience is a harrowing one. In high school, Tyler was prescribed oxycontin when a wisdom tooth was pulled. Before long he was abusing it with friends.

“We would play video games and snort it,” Tyler said. “It was a good time until it wasn’t.”

Tyler overdosed, twice, and wanted to get sober. But as hard as he tried to bury his urges, the drugs kept seeking him out through an app on his own cell phone.

“It was pretty much Amazon for drugs,” Tyler said. “Same day delivery.”

Countless dealers are now advertising on the social media app Snapchat using a cryptic code of emojis.

A plug means the person is a drug connection. Blue dots signify pills. There’s even a car emoji used for delivery.

Tyler does a quick emoji search for a plug on his phone and in a matter of seconds, he finds one of his old dealers.

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“It’s crazy how it’s that easy,” Tyler said. “And they deliver. My guy came from Tacoma. It’s super dangerous, but it’s also super convenient for anyone who wants to get high.”

Convenient but frighteningly lethal.

Lori Carpenter’s son Garrett died after taking a counterfeit pain killer that was made with the synthetic opioid fentanyl. He was only 18.

“There are no words,” Lori said as she fought back tears. “My world crashed."

Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin. Just 10 milligrams, what looks like about a dozen grains of salt, can kill.

“I knew there was going to be a tsunami of death,” said Carol Schweigert, whose son Trey is one of 98 people in Skagit County alone who died from fentanyl poisoning over the past five years.

Experts say 40% of the pills being sold on the street and through Snapchat contain a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl.

“If it’s being a safe haven for drug dealers and we’ve had over 100,000 deaths in America over the past 12 months, that’s a real problem,” said Lori.

Executives at Snapchat refused an on-camera interview request but sent a statement reading, in part, “We have absolutely zero tolerance for drug dealing on Snapchat.”

The spokesperson adds the company has increased its drug dealer detection rate by 390%. 88% of drug-related content that’s now uncovered is found proactively through Snapchat’s use of artificial intelligence. 

The company has also boosted its law enforcement operations. As a result, Snapchat says the number of reports of dealers on the app has decreased by 31%.

It has also launched an in-app portal that warns Snapchatters about the dangers of drugs, especially fentanyl.

“I would say that’s a step in the right direction but it’s never really enough,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Frank Tarentino.

The situation is so serious his agency has launched a public awareness campaign dubbed “One Pill Can Kill.”

In the last four months, Tarentino’s Seattle field division seized enough fentanyl to kill every person in the state of Washington. Tarentino said he believes social media companies are a big part of the business.

“Social media platforms need to do more,” Tarentino said. “They need to raise their level of quality control and their level of responsibility in terms of how these platforms are being misused.”

Last month, dozens of parents whose children have died after buying counterfeit pills via Snapchat protested outside the company’s Santa Monica headquarters.

Tyler is now teaming with those two grieving moms, Lori and Carol, to bring the first-ever fentanyl awareness campaign to Mount Vernon High, where Carol’s son graduated as well.

“There’s counterfeit Percocet, there’s counterfeit Oxycontin, counterfeit Xanax, counterfeit Adderall,” Carol told the health class. “None of it is safe.”

“My son took one pill and it was pure fentanyl,” adds Lori. “One pill is all it took.”

“I’m not one for scare tactics, but it is very scary,” Tyler said. “Just one experiment can mean your life.”

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