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The US has a huge drug problem.
Almost 108,000 people died there last year from an overdose.
Adolescents and young adults, who often use popular social media services to obtain dangerous intoxicants, are also affected.
This emerges from a report in the New York Times.
The article quotes the District Attorney of Placer County, California, among others.
He says, "Social media is almost the only way they get their pills." In Placer County, 40 people died from an overdose last year.
It is said that around 90 percent of the pills sold via the app contain fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller.
In the USA, it's not just apps with self-deleting messages or encrypted chats that are being converted into online drug marketplaces.
According to the report, a study by the University of California San Diego found that drug dealers are on every major social media platform.
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest are mentioned, but also newer platforms such as TikTok, Discord and Telegram.
As a result, all children who use one of the services are at risk of coming into contact with drug dealers.
The investigative team at the Tech Transparency Project warns that even 13-year-olds can get offers for illegal drugs with just a few clicks on Instagram.
The parent company Meta points out that dealer accounts are prohibited on the photo platform.
Nevertheless, some accounts with drug offers have been available for months.
If you type in certain search terms on Instagram, users encounter a warning message.
However, this can be ignored if you are interested in the search results.
Promote drugs with emoji codes
Meta's social network Facebook intervened in four million drug-related posts in the third quarter of last year.
In the previous quarter, this happened to 2.7 million posts.
According to a transparency report by Facebook, the increase has to do with the fact that the recognition software has been improved.
For comparison: According to its own statements, Snapchat became active in the fourth quarter of 2021 with almost 430,000 posts from 280,000 accounts.
Meta, Snap and Google announced a few days ago that they would start an awareness campaign in the summer and focus more on the dangers of drugs on their platforms.
According to the New York Times, Twitter, TikTok, Twitch and Reddit also want to get involved by putting online special websites with information about drugs.
Social media postings on the subject of drugs cannot always be clearly identified from the text alone.
In order to unmask possible drug deals more quickly, the US government published a graphic in December that is intended to decode the emoji code of drug dealers (examples can be found in this PDF) .
A red maple leaf therefore stands for drugs in general.
And with a pill, a blue circle, a parking lot sign and a banana, opioids like Percocet and Oxycodone, which are often mixed with fentanyl, are to be advertised.
Fentanyl as a major danger
In the United States, an overdose is now the number one preventable cause of death for people between the ages of 18 and 45.
The opioid fentanyl is said to have played a role in two-thirds of drug-related deaths.
Fentanyl is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, but is easier to manufacture.
However, dosing is difficult.
According to the US Drug Administration, around 40 percent of painkillers on the black market contain a lethal dose of fentanyl.
Among other things, the musician Prince died in 2016 from an overdose of the synthetic drug.
In Germany, people die significantly less frequently from an overdose than in the USA.
But the numbers are also increasing in this country.
In 2020, 1,826 men and women died from using illegal intoxicants, a 15.5 percent increase from the previous year.
In 2017, for example, there were 1,272 drug-related deaths.
When asked by SPIEGEL, a spokeswoman said that the federal government's drug commissioner could not say anything about how many drug deals in Germany are carried out via apps.
The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) states that it is aware "that drugs are also traded via social media and corresponding apps".
But like the drug commissioner Burkhard Blienert, the BKA does not have any concrete figures.