Drug dealers using social media sites such as Instagram to reach children as young as 13, warn youth workers
Social media is becoming a drug dealing hotspot for young people, experts have warned, with 13-year-olds buying illicit substances on the sites.
Nick Hickmott, who works for Young Addaction in Kent, said the worrying pattern had taken off in the past 18 months.
He said: ‘In the last 18 months we have gone from this way of getting drugs not being mentioned at all among the young people we work with to now nearly every young person talking about it. It is disturbing,‘ reports .
‘Young people are just becoming more dependent on these platforms now as they are heavily integrated into all aspects of their life and so they are being used for more risk-taking behaviour.‘
Social media sellers use hashtags and emojis to indicate what they stock, and share images of the substances. They provide alternative details, and most deals then take place on other platforms such as the encrypted messenger application Wickr.
Drug dealers on the platforms resort to emojis and hashtags to tell buyers what is available, and also take photos of the products.
The actual deals often happen on other sites like Wickr – a secure messaging platform.
Young Addaction, which is part of addiction charity Addaction, works with 10 to 24-year-olds, but is finding the majority of their work lies with 13 to 17-year-olds.
According to Mr Hickmott, the platforms with the highest levels of this illicit behaviour were Instagram and Snapchat.
The youth worker explained that he felt the biggest risk was when the buyer and seller do not know each other. ‘Essentially, if a dealer knows you, they are far less likely to want to see you ripped off or end up in hospital … If you are buying drugs on Instagram, for example, you are getting them from a stranger and the deals might involve meeting up in person.‘
Hickmott added that any drug can be bought through these sites, but most common at present was MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
He said that the social media platforms had a responsibility to shut down the accounts of those selling drugs online.
Fiona Spargo-Mabbs, who‘s son Daniel died after taking a lethal dose of MDMA at a rave, said social media was ‘a gift‘ for drug suppliers.
She said: ‘It is a great gift for the supply chain and it is adult suppliers using the resources of young people and exploiting their savvy-ness in social media.
‘It is particularly worrying because drugs are around young people in a way now that they were not maybe 10 years ago.
‘Having them on social media like that makes them so much more available, and delivery to the door means you don‘t need to be in a dark street corner or hang around with a drug dealer to buy them.‘
However, some believe that rather than asking sites to monitor the behaviour, more education should be in place for young people online.
Professor in substance use Harry Sumnall, of the Public Health Institute, said: ‘It would be easy to say that social media platforms need to do more policing here to get these profiles shut down but I think there are so many sellers that it is impossible to do this.
‘A better solution is making sure young people are educated about the risks of taking drugs and buying them online. The general advice about staying safe while on the web is relevant here.‘
A spokesperson for Instagram said: ‘The Instagram community must follow the law and the sale of illegal or prescription drugs, even if legal in a specific region, is not allowed.
‘We encourage anyone who comes across content like this to report it via our in-built reporting tools.
‘Our global review team checks these reports 24/7, and as soon as we are made aware of violating content we work quickly to remove it.‘
Snapchat asked users to report behaviour like this: ‘There is no place for selling drugs on Snapchat. We encourage anyone who sees something like this anywhere to always report it.‘