FBI Investigating Snapchat Over Role in Deadly Fentanyl Crisis, Report Says

Snapchat is "the platform of choice for fentanyl drug dealers," the National Crime Prevention Council said.

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Dan was a writer on CNET's How-To and Thought Leadership teams. His byline has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, NBC News, Architectural Digest and elsewhere. He is a crossword junkie and is interested in the intersection of tech and marginalized communities.
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Dan Avery
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Snapchat logo on phone

Suppliers of illegal fentanyl are drawn to Snapchat because of its encrypted technology and disappearing messages.

Soumyabrata Roy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The FBI and Justice Department are reportedly looking into Snapchat's involvement in the spread of fentanyl-laced pills fueling a spike in fatal overdoses among young people. 

Investigators have been contacting families of children who died after consuming fentanyl to investigate links between their social media accounts and their dealers, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.

Subpoenaed Snapchat posts indicate a number of teenagers thought they were buying prescription painkillers like Percoset, the outlet reported. But they were reportedly sold pure fentanyl -- just two milligrams of which is enough to kill. 
The Department of Justice and FBI declined to comment on the report. 

A Snap spokesperson told CNET the company is committed to fighting the fentanyl poisoning crisis, including by shutting down dealers' accounts and blocking search results for drug-related terms.
Read On: Snapchat Says It's Cracking Down on Drug Deals on the App
"We will continue to do everything we can to tackle this epidemic," the spokesperson said, "including by working with other tech companies, public health agencies, law enforcement, families and nonprofits." 
The company also pointed to Family Center, a new tool that allows parents to see view all of the accounts their teens are communicating with on Snapchat and report any concerning accounts.

A protestor outside Snapchat headquarters

Parents of children who died of fentanyl poisoning protest outside Snap headquarters in 2021.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Last month, the National Crime Prevention Council called on federal authorities to investigate Snapchat "as the platform of choice for fentanyl drug dealers."

The app's disappearing messages and encrypted technology make it particularly attractive to suppliers, the organization said.
"Drug dealers are using American innovation to sell lethal products," NCPC Director Paul DelPonte said in an open letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland. "In about the same amount of time it takes to read this letter, someone will die from fentanyl poisoning because they purchased a fake pill on a social media platform like Snapchat."

Snapchat has more than 89 million US users, with nearly half (48%) between the ages of 15 and 25. 
From 2019 to 2021, overdose deaths among Americans age 10 to 19 increased by 109%, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with illicitly manufactured fentanyl accounting for 84% of those fatalities. 

In the first half of last year, Snapchat's parent company, Snap, removed 270,810 pieces of content for violating policies on illicit drugs, according to a transparency report. That accounts for nearly 5% of all content taken down for breaching policy in that timeframe.

On Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee discussed the role of tech companies in the fentanyl crisis.

Laura Marquez-Garrett of the Social Media Victims Law Center, who was scheduled to speak at the roundtable, told Bloomberg that, "the death of American children by fentanyl poisoning is not a social media issue -- it's a Snapchat issue."

Correction Jan. 27: An earlier version of this article misstated what percentage of Snapchat content was removed for violating company policy on drug-related posts. Drug-related posts accounted for close to 5% of all removed content.