Drugs on Social Media: What Parents & Educators Need to Look Out For

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May 24, 2022

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This is great info, thanks for giving me some ideas on how to start a dialogue with my teen!


Sharon M.

Parent VIP Member

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Josh's presentation about social media was unbelievably fantastic. Our students learned so much about what kids should and shouldn't be doing. The fact that it is such a thoughtful process made it all worthwhile.


Director of College Advising

Educator Webinar Attendee

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This webinar is a very helpful eye-opener on the apps that are popular with my students.


Irene C.

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Table of Contents

Parents must know that drug dealers are using social media apps to find and connect with their “customers.” In the last year 50% of teenagers report they have misused a drug at least once (Source: National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics).

New research shows that social media is increasingly being used by young people to buy drugs. The same apps that your students use every single day are making it easier for them to get access to illegal drugs. When parents know which apps have had issues, what hashtags are red flags to look out for, and how to have an open discussion with their kids about drugs on social media, they are better equipped to keep their children safe.

In this resource you will learn: 1) Tips for students to help watch out for their friends and 2) how parents and educators can help talk with their students if they recognize any of the signs of potential drug use.

What parents & educators need to know (video)

Examples of drugs on social media

KSAT, San Antonio, Texas
The New York Times
Dr. Laura Berman warns of social media dangers after son dies from over dose. News 8 Channel on your side
News 8

Watch the Bermans explain their family's tragedy:

“We all think Snapchat is the place for kids to do what they want to do because it’s sweet where other kids are.  But the reason the kids are there is because of the functionality that allows things to be ‘secret’... and that means dangerous.”

CBS This Morning

How do online drug sales happen?

"The Internet is probably the primary mechanism for drug dealers because using social media and smartphones to conduct business is far quicker and more efficient than methods of the past. The same privacy settings that are meant to protect users’ confidential information are also used by drug dealers to cover their tracks and render themselves invisible..." - American Addiction Centers
  • Photos of drugs are posted with captions that include hashtags, emojis, and instructions on how to contact the dealer through encrypted messaging apps like Snapchat, WhatsApp, Whisper, or Kik. Dealers will discourage buyers from contacting them via direct message (DM)
  • The transaction will take place on the encrypted messaging app. Buyers pay using services like Venmo and have the product shipped to them via USPS, UPS, and FedEx or they will meet the dealer in person and pay with cash

Dealers find ways around the rules

  • Social media companies say drug deals are not allowed in their communities, but dealers still find ways around the rules
  • Buyers and sellers often look for common hashtags and emojis to know who to connect with and then do so privately and on disappearing or multiple apps
  • Social media sites often block, ban, or hide hashtags and emojis known to be connected to drug sales, but dealers still find ways to market their products and connect with users

View the SmartSocial.com Teen Slang, Emojis, & Hashtags Parents Need to Know (The Ultimate List) page for updates

Dealers use social media to look like “legitimate” businesses

The pop-culture blog, Complex, interviewed several drug dealers.

Complex Headline: The Digital Underground: Here's How You Can Buy Drugs on Social Media, Right Now

In the article, the dealers said they:

'I] post pictures and then decide who to serve based on customer behavior.' The dealers also said: ‘I try to appeal to pretty much anyone that ain’t too sketchy.’


Online predators also try to trick teens who may not be looking for drugs

  • Predators can be tricky and work to build a “friendship” with students online. Then they may convincingly offer drugs that the student may not have been looking for
  • Just like strangers in person on the street, we all have to be cautious about strangers we are also friending online

Illegal drugs often contain more than what the buyer thinks they are getting

Watch this news report from WFAA in Texas to hear what experts say illegal drugs likely contain and the consequences of those additives: 

We have to look out for our friends

  • Students, parents, and educators all have to work together to keep each other safe
  • A “walk around the block for air” like Sammy said he was doing wasn’t the whole truth, but his friends had an idea of what he was doing

How do you know if your friend might be using drugs?

  • Pay attention to the screenshots your friends send you. Are they trying to get you involved too? 
  • Some signs of drug use according to DrugFree.org
  • ~Shifts in mood & personality
  • ~Sullen, withdrawn or depressed
  • ~Deceitful or secretive
  • ~Hyperactive or unusually elated
  • ~Locks doors
  • ~Disappears for long periods of time
  • ~Goes out often

What can you do if someone you care about shows signs of drug use?

  • The hardest step may be to remain calm. They won’t listen if they think you’re going to lose your temper or judge them
  • Search resources online like drugfree.org or your school counselors for specific talking points and tips to confront someone
  • Express how much you care about them no matter how much trouble they might be in
  • Students: seek help from trusted adults if you think your friends are using drugs (even if it was just once, or they made you promise to not tell on them)

Hashtags that parents need to know about and monitor

Since a lot of networks try to ban hashtags that promote illegal activities, new hashtags pop up all the time but here are some we know (learn more on the SmartSocial Teen Slang, Emojis, & Hashtags Parents Need to Know (The Ultimate List)):

  • #xansforsale
  • #oxy
  • #percocet
  • #painkillers
  • #painpills
  • #oxycontin
  • #adderall
  • #painrelief
  • #fentanyl
  • #cocaine
  • #heroin


We all need to have an ongoing dialogue with our friends about our futures, so we know these platforms/apps should be used with a positive purpose. We have to always remember what to say YES and NO to in life.

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