In February 2021, Dr. Laura Berman, relationship expert and TV host, began speaking out and publicly grieving her 16-year-old son’s tragic, overdose death. Sammy, Dr. Berman’s deceased son, overdosed in his bedroom after purchasing Fentanyl-laced Xanax from a dealer via Snapchat. Unfortunately, Sammy is not the only teenager this has happened to.
In the past, most teens bought their drugs from classmates or simply took them from their parent’s medicine cabinets. Drug dealers and drug users have kept up with the times and the increased dominance of the internet by buying and selling drugs online. In addition, the effects of the pandemic and social distancing guidelines have sparked a major surge in teens buying drugs on popular social media apps.
Drugs are not just sold on the dark web anymore – they are far more easily accessible to your average middle and high-school-aged kid. Between dealers following popular trends on TikTok to sell narcotics, using encrypted messaging apps like Signal to hide from the police, or buying and selling drugs via Snapchat, it is not uncommon to find your neighborhood drug dealer on your teen’s favorite social media platform.
Buying drugs online is particularly worrisome, because teens do not always know what they are getting. According to Chris Evans, administrator at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), many teens think they are ordering regular pills, like Xanax, but they end up getting a counterfeit substance that is laced with Fentanyl – a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin.
With the recent increase in teens buying drugs online – and many overdosing – it is important to know how to prevent teens from doing so, and how to recognize the signs that your teenager may be purchasing drugs right from their cell phone.
Preventing Teens From Purchasing Drugs Online
One of the top reasons why young adults take drugs is to fit in with their peers. Whether they are being peer pressured to smoke marijuana or feel like they need to drink to have a good time with others at a party, peer pressure can have a huge impact on their own actions. It is important to recognize this, because this is where you can start with prevention: by preparing your teen to handle peer pressure in a healthy manner.
In a perfect world, you could take all of the security measures – adding passwords to certain apps, using parental controls, and monitoring your teen’s internet use – and you would be able to stop them from using drugs. However, the internet is everywhere, and expecting your child to completely avoid these temptations is not realistic. Instead, you should open up the conversation about peer pressure, substance abuse, and the effects of social media with your teen.
Let your teen know that everything they see on social media is not always what it seems. Their friends, who are posting Snapchat stories using drugs at a party, are not “cool.” In reality, they could be failing their classes, lying to their parents, or on their way to developing a substance use disorder.
Be sure to talk to your teens about the implications of substance abuse, the dangers of peer pressure, and even your personal experiences with drug abuse and/or peer pressure. When you open up to your teen about experiences personal to you, they may feel more comfortable confiding in you in the future.
Talking to and educating your child is the key to preventing any kind of drug abuse. Other steps you can take to make sure your teens use their social media apps in a safe way include:
- Monitor what your teen does online and what apps they download on their phone
- Become familiar with the apps your teen is using yourself
- Use parental control features to block inappropriate content or influencers
- Browse your teen’s recent searches on their phone and their computer
- Monitor all delivered packages to your home
- Continue keeping the lines of communication open with your teen
Signs Your Teen is Buying Drugs Online
One tell-tale sign that your teenager is buying drugs online or on social media is if they are unreasonably anxious or aggressive when you try to monitor their social media use, search history, or packages. If your teen is acting suspicious regarding his or her online behaviors, there are additional signs to watch for that may indicate your teen is buying drugs online. These include:
- Spending an increased amount of time online or on their phone in privacy
- Lying about the time spent online or on their phone
- Creating multiple accounts on the same platform, making secret accounts, or making accounts under an alias
- Increased spending habits
- Using encrypted messaging apps that are password locked like Signal or Telegram
- Receiving mysterious packages at strange hours
- Hiding or deleting browsing history
- Other signs of drug use like mood swings and behavior changes
If you find that your teen is buying drugs on their social media apps, it may be time to get a professional opinion to determine if your teen needs treatment.
No parent wants to believe their teenager is using their online privileges to buy drugs, but the popularity of social media apps, and their ease of use makes buying drugs online easy, especially for young adults. As a result, it is important to take these steps to prevent teen drug use and ensure your child is staying safe online.