Sen. Daines presses Big Tech execs on how social media platforms plan to combat fentanyl, illicit drug sales

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FIRST ON FOX – Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., on Tuesday sent a letter to the CEOs of Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok, asking what they are doing to combat sales of fentanyl and other illicit drugs on their platforms.

Parents across the country have lost or come close to losing their children due to fentanyl poisoning as the deadly synthetic opioid appears more frequently in pills disguised as Xanax, Adderall and other medications that are available to teenagers via social media.

“We write to you today regarding reports that the use of your social media platforms has been linked to the sale of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills that have caused the deaths of teens and young adults across the country,” Daines wrote in the Tuesday letter. “In light of the devastating rise in drug overdose deaths in the U.S., especially linked to fentanyl, we are requesting more information regarding steps your companies are taking to protect children and crackdown on illegal drug sales on your platforms.”

U.S. overdose deaths have doubled in 30 states over the past two years. Between November 2020 and November 2021, more than 107,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Around 66% of those deaths involved synthetic opioids like fentanyl, though many people who overdose were unaware they were taking fentanyl.

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Victims, many of whom are minors or young adults, have died from ingesting fentanyl in illicit pills marketed as Xanax and other non-lethal drugs but contained the dangerous opioid unbeknownst to buyers. Among teenagers, U.S. fentanyl deaths tripled over two years. 

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Deaths among Black teenagers in the U.S. increased five-fold. Reports suggest some victims may be purchasing illicit drugs and pills containing the opioid on social media apps like Snapchat.

Parents across the country have lost or come close to losing their children to fentanyl poisoning deaths as the deadly synthetic opioid appears more frequently in pills disguised as Xanax, Adderall and other medications that are available to teenagers via social media.

Parents across the country have lost or come close to losing their children to fentanyl poisoning deaths as the deadly synthetic opioid appears more frequently in pills disguised as Xanax, Adderall and other medications that are available to teenagers via social media. (RINGO CHIU/AFP)

Users sometimes use emoji to disguise conversations about drugs or other illegal activity that may be picked up by monitors social media companies use to block illicit activity.

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Daines noted in his letter, which has seven cosigners, that the ongoing border crisis has led to a drastic increase in fentanyl crossing into the U.S. from China and Mexico.

Daines noted in his letter that the ongoing border crisis has led to a drastic increase in the amount of fentanyl crossing into the U.S. from China and Mexico.

Daines noted in his letter that the ongoing border crisis has led to a drastic increase in the amount of fentanyl crossing into the U.S. from China and Mexico. (Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP)

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“Drug dealers in our communities then market these deadly pills to unsuspecting buyers as legitimate prescription pills like Percocet, Xanax, and Adderall,” Daines wrote. “Social media platforms like yours provide a convenient venue for dealers to anonymously and discreetly peddle these counterfeit pills to a young audience. With 4 in 10 of these pills containing a lethal dose of fentanyl, more and more of these online transactions are ending in tragedy.”

The senator then asked the four social media companies about their ability to detect sales of illicit drugs on their platforms; how many accounts they have removed due to drug-related activity; whether platforms are coordinating to prevent such activity; how companies aim to prevent previously banned users from creating new accounts; what recourse they offer parents and young users; and other probing questions.