DENVER — A new report is highlighting the role social media is playing in Colorado’s ongoing fentanyl crisis.
Attorney General Phil Weiser released the 182-page report titled “Social Media, Fentanyl & Illegal Drug Sales” Wednesday after newly enacted state legislation that requires yearly reports on how the internet and social media platforms are used for the sale and distribution of fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, contributed to or caused the deaths of more than 900 people in Colorado last year, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
In the report, the Colorado Department of Law points out that dealers will often use code words to advertise what type of drugs they are selling.
An example given is a Whisper post of a kitten with the words “I got the blues.. and I’m mobile just driving around in my feelings..” superimposed on top of the image.
The report explains that the coded language used in the Whisper post indicates that a drug seller has “the blues” (Oxycodone) and that they are “mobile” (able to deliver drugs locally).
Dealers will sometimes explicitly spell out their inventory but do it in a way that can bypass automated content moderation tools, according to the report.
The report points to a 2019 study that strongly suggests that social media is gaining traction as a convenient marketplace for illicit drugs, particularly among young people.
“As innovative online services and platforms weave their way into nearly every aspect of our lives, they also threaten to fuel a dangerous killer—the increasing ease of access to deadly substances, including fentanyl,” Weiser said in a news release. “We are committed to confronting the painful and lethal challenges of fentanyl distribution in Colorado. That means we will use all tools at our disposal to address this crisis, including pressing the federal government to address the flow of such deadly drugs into our community and calling on social media companies to do more to restrict the distribution of this deadly substance through their platforms.”
The report identifies a series of recommendations for potential policy and legislative interventions designed to combat the online illicit substance market. These include:
- Social media platforms should adopt a uniform, robust set of best practices to prevent and respond to illicit drug activity.
- Colorado should consider legislation requiring social media platforms to clearly disclose their policies on drug activity and cooperation with law enforcement and to publish regular transparency reports providing data on their enforcement activities.
- Social media companies should enter a memorandum of understanding with the department, memorializing their commitment to implementing identified best practices for addressing illicit substances activity on their platforms, subject to penalties for failure to follow the terms of the memorandum.
- More resources should be provided to support existing law enforcement efforts to combat drug distribution online.
- Increased resources for substance abuse treatment and harm reduction specifically tailored for teens and young adults.
- There should be increased focus in expanding increasing internet and social media literacy for parents and caregivers.
- A federal agency should be empowered to oversee social media platforms; and
- Federal legislation requiring greater access to social media platforms’ data transparency should be enacted.