DEA: Drug dealers use emojis to target teens and young adults

DEA drug emoji key .png
Posted at 6:26 PM, Jan 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-31 18:41:10-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - Did you know drug dealers are using emojis to target new customers, oftentimes teens and young adults?

Here's a look at the most common emojis the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said they have found in their investigations:

“Young people are going online buying pills thinking they are buying oxycodone, but in fact what they’re getting is a counterfeit oxycodone with a deadly amount of fentanyl,” Special Agent In Charge Jared Forget said.

He said of every five pills the DEA seized in 2021, two out of those five contained a deadly amount of fentanyl. He said it takes just 2 mg of fentantyl to kill someone. He said drug dealers have evolved how they market drugs.

“They’re using these emojis to signify the amount of drug, the type of drug, the strength, the purity of the drug,” Forget said.

He said they're using platforms like Snapchat, Facebook and Instagram to find potential customers.

“Oftentimes those kids don’t even know what they’re buying. Frankly, they’re tricked and duped into buying counterfeit fentanyl pills,” Forget said.

Forget said in 2021 in Virginia, there were more than 3,000 deaths due to drug overdoses. Of those 3,000 deaths, more than 70% of the fatal drug overdoses are fentanyl.

Nickie Wheeler said her son died from a fentanyl overdose in 2019. He thought he was taking an opioid, but it was laced with a deadly amount of fentanyl.

“He had one dose. He was actually supposed to go into treatment the next day, so it wasn’t his intention to die," Wheeler said. "He just wanted to get high.”

After seeing the DEA graphic on drug emojis, Wheeler said she was concerned for teens and young adults.

“I'm looking at the snowflake - some of the stuff just looks fun little things, so parents might not necessarily know what their kids are doing,” said Wheeler.

She said it's important for parents and kids to have an open dialogue about drugs to end the stigma.

“One trial can end their life," Wheeler said, "so it’s very important for parents to talk about those kinds of things and to recognize that it’s not somebody else’s kid; it could be their kid.”

Related: DEA: Young people put in danger by ordering fake pills online, not realizing they contain fentanyl