Passion Project by Olivia Foody

Contributed by Olivia Foody, Aliso Niguel High School Junior, 2023

In the world of social media, Snapchat has made it easy to introduce teens to a world of illicit substances. If anyone would be able to back this statement up, it would be me, a teenager in today’s society who is a Snapchat user. Snapchat is used for its convenience to communicate with friends along with its fun features, although in recent times, Snapchat has also opened up a world of drugs to young users. This has resulted in numerous cases of drug addiction, as well as rising death rates. Sadly, this issue hits close to home for me. A close friend of mine lost his life due to a pill he purchased off of Snapchat, which he thought was an oxycontin pill, but was actually laced with fentanyl. This heartbreaking incident highlights the dangers of the accessibility of drugs on Snapchat and the need for greater awareness and education around the risks involved. While many people may think Snapchats only use is for teenagers to connect with friends and have fun, in actuality, this platform has made it easier for young users to access and buy drugs, resulting in addictions and fatal overdoses.

The main cause is how Snapchat takes advantage of what they know about teenage brains to apply to the sale of drugs on their platform. The underdeveloped teenage brain has trouble making thoughtful decisions at such a young age. Which gives teens less of a percentage of being able to balance out decisions. Making teens more prone to addiction and to trying new things. Research directed by Dr. Frances Jensen validates that, “An adult is much more likely to control impulses or weigh out different factors in decisions, where a teenager may not actually have full online, in the moment capacity. And that’s why we see this increase in risk…” This portrays how young teens are at risk to fall into drugs. Dr. Frances Jensen uses a comparison between the adult brain and the teenage brain, which strengthens the argument faced about brain development. As she states, because they lack control, they are more likely to act on impulses rather than someone older. This is why young teens are being targeted instead of adults. Older people have a more developed brain and are less likely to be easily influenced, unlike young teenagers. The dealers would not be able to attract their targeted audience, young teens, as easily if they did not have this advantage. The advantage is due to the underdeveloped brain. The fact that human brains do not develop until they are in their twenties, meaning their frontal lobes, the part of the brain that helps control impulses, is not matured. While under circumstances where teens are given decisions or choices they have to face, the more logical side of the brain has less of a say here. Using real life examples for comparison, Reyna and Farley concluded, “In these situations, the still-maturing “brake” circuitry in the front part of the brain may be particularly overwhelmed by the “accelerator” region compromising the ability to make thoughtful decisions.” As they example the overwhelming situations most people are put in throughout their life, they use figurative language to show how it affects teens the most. Reyna and Farley’s research takes into consideration how the frontal lobes are still developing and when teenagers minds are under pressure, most have trouble thinking with clarity. Tapping in on the ‘accelerator’ non-literal term that was used. It overpowers the already impulsive teenage mind, leaving them with the very minimal thought processes behind their choices. Clearly, teenagers’ brains differ from adult brains, leaving Snapchat with their target audience. With all this information they can base their features to please the teens mind, resulting in an easier time getting drugs.

Another cause of this problem is how they portray ‘bait’ on Snapchat. Dealers are given a platform to create a perception of what the drugs will do when taken, including photos, videos, and descriptions. The Townsville Bulletin newspaper informs that, “Colorful posts on the apps openly advertise a plethora of drugs, using slang words or coded emojis, which are easily searchable but avoid platform censorship.” As Bulletin newspapers point out, bright colors being marketed is a deliberate intention of the dealers as it draws more attention to the way the drugs are portrayed. Through Snapchat methods that were shared, it conveys how dealers recognize the advantages of Snapchat. This is, the accessibility to be able to make these public posts, putting the filters and emojis, masking the reality and dangers of drugs. The direct examples of colors and cryptic words, it is accurately pinpointing how this app makes it too easy for young people to be taken advantage of. From knowing ways to have control over teenagers minds, they take this into account while trying to bait them in. Those who are given more of a pull, while scrolling through Snapchat, seeing countless options and individual texts, are likely to want to try something new out. Amy Neville, mother of a child who was killed from a pill bought over Snapchat shares insight on how drug dealers bait their audience. She explains, “They become friends with them and take advantage of the fact that they are vulnerable.” Amy Neville has taken serious action in trying to have Snapchat patrolled and shut down all drug associations. She has thoroughly researched every field of Snapchat and every way dealers come across it. From extreme investigation, it has been found they come in trying to be subtle without even making a connection, showing they are to be trusted. Giving teens a sense of safety, they feel the urge to take part in buying the drugs offered. The dealers predominant feature is being able to be given a source, Snapchat, to provoke drugs in teens. Once they have the source, Snapchat gives all the ways of connection needed to form the addiction. The lack of control systems on Snapchat is giving dealers a way to give the younger audience a new perspective on drugs.

Through snapchat there are many ways that make drug buying so effortless, leading to another cause, being the easy access. While Snapchat gives teens an easy way of connecting with new people, some take this as an opportunity to sell their product. NBC news reports feature Bergmans studies that, “While many social media companies have faced drug sales on their platforms, unique features on Snapchat, like disappearing messages and the snap map that can give users the locations of potential dealers make it an ideal platform for illegal sales.” Bergman found that clearly snapchat makes it accessible to buy illicit drugs more than other social platforms. He recognizes that although it may seem to have similarities with the other apps, like Instagram and Facebook, Snapchat offers distinctive features that leads to a gateway to the use of drugs. With snapchats “Quick Add ” feature it makes it so most people you have on the app live around you and have some sort of mutual connection. Which results in the dealer being able to drive minutes to deliver the drugs, getting paid, and taking the pills/drugs. The idea of the drugs being so easily accessible, gives teenagers a feeling of security, as the situation seems that way. Through direct interviews done with users, they found, “This process of finding the drugs on social media and then ordering them for pickup at an arranged place is described as a very straightforward process; it is clear that the technology itself becomes transparent for him.” The interviewees implies how buying drugs through snapchat is as easy as a dealer reaching out or making a post and the said person engaging. From the questioned young person’s point of view the ease of buying drugs is so quick and accessible, it makes them feel more safe, although it is quite the opposite. By having apps like Snapchat, meeting people who sell is an effortless process, not having to know anybody and being able to find people just by clicking “accept” on a friend request. The research done through the interviews have shown how the teenagers feel towards the uncomplicated exchange of drugs and money and how it makes them feel safe. Being as uninvolved with the person as possible, not having to have any connection towards them, gives them a feeling of safety. Despite the fact that, without all this information teens are actually increasing their risk of unsafety. The access of reachable dealers and drugs on Snapchat gives teenagers a higher chance of buying the products.

Another cause of the drug problem on Snapchat is misinformation.. Decoding the dark side of Snapchat reveals all the drugs being sold and getting kids hooked, only with the knowledge the dealers want to display. CNBC news reports, “The roundtable featured the mother of a child who died after taking a drug containing fentanyl allegedly purchased over Snapchat, apparently believing it was a prescription painkiller.” The victim mentioned was looking for painkillers, and was led to believe that that’s what they were purchasing. Which shows how it is all too easy to mislead someone into thinking they are buying the specific type of drug as advertised. Unnecessary deaths are occurring because of the deception that happens online. This shows how often they are receiving misinformation. And, unfortunately, Snapchats unique features are perfectly suited for this type of transaction. Thus, every kid who uses Snapchat is unprotected against the misperception drug dealers can create on this platform. The lack of full disclosure about the drug itself, making it seem like the drug is non harmful, as if it’s another drug. When in fact, it is a drug that is laced with fentanyl, and that’s something they would never tell their purchasers, or else no one would buy their drugs. The outside world not knowing all the insight they need to be kept safe on what is really in drugs nowadays, is the cause of the increase in overdoses. CDCs information reveals, “Drugs may contain deadly levels of fentanyl, and you wouldn’t be able to see it, taste it, or smell it. It is nearly impossible to tell if drugs have been laced with fentanyl…” This illustrates how fentanyl is physically similar to any other drug, meaning that it is easier to conceal the fact that fentanyl is in the drug. Considering that fentanyl is cheaper, and easier to access, it could easily be marked as another drug. This ties back in with misinformation, because consumers of drugs are prone to being fed misinformation in regards to the elements of whatever drug they are intaking. Snapchat makes it easy for users to sell their product by concealing the dangers of the substances they are sharing. The result of misinformation taking over Snapchat results in, if they do not do something now, social media along with the teens safety is going to spiral out of control.

The effects of the teens brain still being under development, is how easily they take the drugs, leading to extreme brain deformity. The risk of taking drugs as a teenager compared to an adult increases the chances of substance abuse disorder. Research directed by Casey, Jones, and Hare prove, “…the maturing brain may be particularly vulnerable to the acute effects of drugs, and that drug use during adolescence may significantly increase a young person’s risk for developing a substance use disorder later in life.” These changes make the brain highly sensitive to the effects of drugs, showing how it can lead to lasting addiction. This quote emphasizes how drug use during the brain development period of youth, causes an increased risk of developing substance abuse disorder which can lead to permanent changes in the brain. Brain development sets the youth up for the rest of their life , as the brain is significantly changing and maturing during this time. Drug use when the brain is not fully developed can not only lead to the need for drugs throughout the course of a life span, but also extreme brain deformity. Deborah Quinns research conveys, “Drugs can also permanently change the brain’s prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain helps you think ahead, make smart decisions, interact with others in healthy ways and control yourself.” Quinns brings attention to the potential long-term effects of drug abuse on the brain’s prefontal cortex, which is responsible for behavioral and decision making functions. The prefrontal cortex is an essential part of the brain that develops all the way into early adulthood. Therefore, the use of drugs during development can have profound and lasting effects. The vulnerability of the developing brain during teenage years makes it particularly susceptible to the effects of drugs. Which leads to extreme brain deformity and significantly increases the risk of developing substance abuse disorder.

The effects of bait and easy access, is portrayed through teens’ addiction. When teenagers get addicted to drugs, it is more detrimental than when adults do. As the brain is still developing and the effects come out to be more harmful. Data shows, “…drugs unnaturally increase dopamine in the teen brain, the using teen gets the message, “you don’t need food or sleep or friendships as much as you need alcohol and other drugs.”” This statement is able to highlight the damaging effects of addiction. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role, which sends pleasure and reward signals to the brain. As it states, when drugs are introduced, they immediately increase dopamine levels, and create that sense of euphoria. The role of the brain showing the body that it does not need basic human necessity, affects the teenagers development with important life skills. In addition to the impact, addiction affects the teenagers social life and performance. Drug addiction can lead to isolation and poor work performances. Through research done by Green Hill Recovery Center, “It is common for substance-abusing youth to disengage from clubs, sports, and activities at school. Lack of engagement can then lead to social alienation and stigmatization by peers.” By using direct examples of what teens may lose interest in, the quote highlights the negative impact that drug abuse can have on a young person’s social life. Mentioning a loss of interest in activities and hobbies that they once enjoyed relates to the direct effects of drug use. Feeling exhausted and lethargic from drug use, or simply being preoccupied with using drugs. As a result, their research proves teens may start skipping school clubs, sports teams, and other activities, which can lead to a sense of detachment from their peers. Addiction, being the leading cause of this disengagement which results in having a negative impact on a young person’s overall well being. The easy access and availability of drugs can have a significant impact on a teenage drug addiction, leading to increased consequences that can have long-lasting effects on their lives.

The effects of the misinformation on snapchat are numerous. The majority of teens who are taking drugs are unaware of what the content of the drug truly is. Due to misinformation, the CA department of health found, “Based on preliminary 2021 data, there were 6,843 opioid-related overdose deaths in California; 5,722 of these deaths were related to fentanyl.” These statistics show just how detrimental this platform can be when used to disburse drugs to young people. Proving reality, the potential potency of fentanyl is fatal. Those numbers make it 83.6% of the drug user population, being uneducated about pills being laced. Considering in just one year there were 6,843 deaths, shows how strongly drugs are affecting humans. Drug overdoses have clearly become a major public health crisis in recent years, with statistics showing it as a leading cause of deaths in many countires. Federal data recognizes how, “Overdoses are now the leading cause of preventable death among people ages 18 to 45, ahead of suicide, traffic accidents and gun violence…” We are able to see the highlighted severity of the drug overdose crisis and its impact on the younger populations. This data shows how overdoses have surpassed other well-known causes of death among young adults. The use of the term “preventable death” emphasizes the fact that drug overdoses are not inevitable. This is able to underscores the urgent need to address the issue and prioritize efforts to prevent the excessive misinformation on drugs and their effects. Through research, it is clear that the effects of drug misinformation can have significant negative consequences on individuals. It leads to inaccurate beliefs about drug use, overdose risk, and addiction, which contributes to the effect as people don’t understand how serious the problem really is.

Drug use among teens is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Snapchat, being the leading cause of the introduction of drugs to teens, needs to address this issue and promote healthy behavior among teens. With appropriate education, resources, and interventions the death and addiction rates resulted by Snapchat could be avoided. This further emphasizes the importance of effective prevention and treatment strategies, the leading one being platform moderation. Platform modification on Snapchat, such as removing drug-related content and accounts, will help reduce drug sales by limiting the visibility and accessibility of drugs on the platform. Research conducted by Taylor Hatmaker found, “Snap committed to improving its ability to detect illicit drug sales on the social network and began ushering users who search for drug-related content to an educational harm reduction portal.” Snapchat taking responsibility for the content that is shared on their platform can help address the issue of drugs, lessening teen drug use rates. Hatmaker proves that platform moderation associated with removing drug related content, promotes a safer online environment for all users. Along with algorithm changes, Snapchat can take steps forward to prevent drug content being shared to their platforms. Adjusting snapchats algorithm in order to minimize the visibility of drugs, stops the content reaching the more vulnerable audience, being teenagers. Snapchats role comes into play when they are at fault for not encouraging healthy habits, and just letting the drug community take over their app. The Snapchat company needs to take steps into the direction of encouraging a clean lifestyle, and how their site comes into play for this. Snapchats “Snap Kit” developer platform acknowledges, “As developers, we can help by building features that encourage positive behaviors, like staying active, connecting with friends, and practicing mindfulness and self-care…” Snapchats responsibilities in promoting healthy behaviors is the solution to drug takeover on this site. This quote is able to emphasize how important certain features that encourage positive behavior can change some people’s outlook on life. When scrolling through social media, what people stumble across and continually see content of, is what they are most likely going to be interested in. By promoting awareness and positive content, it gives users a different outlook on the app. Even if the drug content is going to be there and is unavoidable, snapchat can outweigh those posts with positive and constructive reinforcement.

While taking drugs off of Snapchat may be a challenging and lengthy process, providing resources to stay clear of so will ultimately be the next best step. Substance abuse is a leading cause as well as effect to drug use and sale on Snapchat. The availability of a trustworthy support system can and will reduce addiction rate, resulting in less sales and purchases through Snapchat. Justice programs propose the idea, “Creating a continuum of care from prison into the community, incorporating HIV prevention in treatment, and delivering essential support services, such as job counseling and child care, are elements of the new approaches to substance abuse.” As we know, Snapchat is filled with numerous photos and text of dealers glorifying and promoting drug use, those who are left alone with this pressuring design can very possibly give in to impulses. The US department of justice recognizes how having a reliable outlet to consult with eases the temptation. With the approach of multiple ideas of comforting systems, it gives many resources for everybody, wherever they are in their life. As they mention the connection from “prison” into “community”, they acknowledge the support needed for everybody. No matter if you are a survivor of drugs and are in prison already, or haven’t tried yet and are just under the spell of urges, they give hope for all. With increased public awareness and support for those struggling with addiction, it doesn’t make people feel as though drugs are the only place to turn to. As Snapchat will continually have people trying to promote drug use, working towards the elimination of this will better the platform, making it safe. When drug content is shared, it leaves viewers with the ultimate decision of engaging with the post or not. The editorial staff presents an alternative, “…removes any content that promotes illegal drug use or underage drinking based on whether users flag the content as objectionable.”Bringing forward this possible course of action, can be useful for those who don’t struggle with scrolling past these posts. Being able to flag that triggering content, leaves others with an easier time of having to control the impulses some tend to have. As shared, the platform is able to remove those images/videos that were flagged. This being the start of completely wiping out drugs on social media platforms, especially the rising one being Snapchat. Getting rid of all harmful and inappropriate content shared on Snapchat would be almost impossible, as somebody is always going to find a way around it. Finding ways to lessen the frequency of when these posts are shared, is the key to this solution. Filtering some of the content shared on Snapchat is the most important beginning steps of this world wide problem.

Snapchat has opened up teens to a new way that social media platforms are used, which is creating dangerous trends that have resulted in tragic outcomes, this one being drug use. As many people view these platforms as harmless for young users, and only the ones who want to get involved with drugs do, the reality is that they have given drugs a platform to be introduced on. This platform being Snapchat, has made it easier for drugs to be obtained as well as distributed. The effects are right in front of us, although some choose to overlook it, but the fact that teens are dying right in front of us daily should be a big enough red flag. At this point, it is essential to raise awareness about this issue, educate young people, and put safety measures in place to help control the sales online. By doing so, this will help protect teenagers and prevent further dangers and harm being influenced from the dark side of social media.