Home    Resources    Tips & Guides    5 Tips to Keep Youth Safe from Drugs Online

5 Tips to Keep Youth Safe from Drugs Online

Marcel Gemme By Marcel Gemme | Last Updated: 3 May 2024
  • What You'll Learn

Quick Tips to Keep Teens Safe Online

  • Manage your teen’s expectations of privacy.
  • Educate yourself on slang terms and emoji “codes” for different types of drug use.
  • Learn how to spot potential dark web use.
  • Understand there may be no signs of addiction for your child to be at risk of overdose.
  • Don’t wait for your loved one to hit rock bottom; fentanyl can kill someone on their first use.

Drug dealers have turned to the internet and social media apps like Snap Chat to find customers during the pandemic, causing youth drug deaths to soar. Social media is almost exclusively how teens and young adults are getting illicit pills now, and about 90% of these pills contain fentanyl. And with features like encryption and disappearing messages on the most popular apps, their use for selling drugs keeps growing.

The Covid-19 pandemic changed the face of our country in many ways, particularly in the field of drug rehab. Drug use soared nationwide when social distancing measures crippled a network built on connection and face-to-face interactions. The recovery community went virtual in response, turning to internet platforms that allow people to stay connected even when they can’t be in the same room. But while this shift proved advantageous for helping people recover from addiction, the power of the internet is accessible to everyone, including drug dealers.

Below are 5 tips to help keep a loved one safe from online drug dealers:

Manage your child’s expectation of privacy

During adolescence, kids can become more private and tend not to disclose everything to their parents. While this is a normal part of growing up, certain dangers can go undetected. It is crucial to have oversite to protect young adults, especially when it comes to online activity.

Here are some tips to help with this.

  • Make it clear that you will monitor their online activity to keep them safe. This can prevent any upsets when you approach them about something they did online.
  • Utilize tools to monitor content and manage screen time. Many programs and software can help oversee what your kids are doing online and on their phones. This can go a long way in keeping your children safe.
  • Teens with access to apps like Snap Chat are at significant risk since random dealers will advertise directly to them.
  • If you’re screening their accounts, look for users with a profile picture that doesn’t show their face, include drug terms in their bio, or use the below-mentioned emojis.

Learn the Emoji Code for Drugs

When monitoring online activity, it is important to fully understand what you are looking at. The online drug market has become such a problem that it has prompted the DEA to research the subject of emojis and their use in illicit drug transactions. They have since published a sort of decoder which explains the use of certain emojis in the drug trade. The more educated you are, the better chance you have at spotting possible risks. For example, heroin may symbolize a brown heart or a dragon emoji.

A list of common examples is shown below.

Description of fake prescription drugs

Learn to spot dark web activity

While many of us have heard of the dark web through movies or TV, very few visit it or know how to get there. Unfortunately for parents, with a simple Google search, someone can learn how to access and navigate the dark web. While not all activity on the dark web is nefarious, it is no place for teens and young adults to visit. Some sites sell many things that could be harmful to your child, including illicit drugs. It may be difficult for those who know little about the dark web to know if someone is using it.

Here are some tips to help.

  • Search the devices on which your child has access to TOR software. TOR stands for “The Onion Router,” the main browser used to access the dark web.
  • Monitor your child’s devices for any activity involving digital currency or crypto. Assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum are popular payment methods on the dark web, and interest in crypto could signify that your child is accessing the dark web.
  • Pay attention to the mail:
    • If your loved one is receiving packages that they will not open in front of you, it could be something bought online they don’t want you to see.
    • Furthermore, if they seem anxious or spend a lot of time checking the mail, they may be trying to intercept a package without you seeing that something has arrived.

Understand there may be no signs of addiction

This may seem counterintuitive and concerning, but we’ve entered a new age of drug abuse. We can no longer rely on old adages and our historical understanding of addiction. Today, teens are dying the first or second time they use drugs. They may not even have time to become addicted or dependent before ingesting a fake pill containing fentanyl. There may be no signs pointing towards drug abuse like slipping grades, isolation, or other classic behaviors. It’s essential to realize that users usually do not know they’re consuming a fentanyl-laced pill. The chart below will put things in perspective.

Fentanyl-laced pills are flooding the streets:

Graph on the number of pills containing Fentanyl seized by law enforcement in the United States from 2018 to 2021.

Don’t wait for “rock bottom”

As explained above, addiction isn’t necessary anymore for drug deaths to be commonplace. So, if you discover that a loved one is buying or consuming illicit substances, you should intervene. Waiting for them to become addicted and experience negative consequences before deciding to seek help is ill-advised and should be avoided in today’s epidemic. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Just take a look at recent trends:

  • Fatal overdose among adolescents raised 94% from 2019 to 2020.
  • There was an additional 20% raise from 2020 to 2021.
  • 77% of all teen overdose deaths involved fentanyl.
  • Fentanyl pills seized by law enforcement increased by 3,233% from 2018 to 2021.

Getting Help for Teen Substance Use

If it is discovered that your child is heavily using drugs or alcohol, then a long-term program is always recommended to get them the help they need. However, it’s possible that even though your loved one is making poor decisions, they may not be suffering from Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Despite no “addiction” yet, they’ve demonstrated a need for change. Detox and treatment for teens who haven’t developed a physical dependence may be a much faster process and can often be done on an outpatient basis. The idea is to help the person learn to make better decisions for themselves. Competent rehabs for teens will help the patient address whatever they were aiming to mask or avoid with substances.




More Information

Marcel Gemme has been helping people struggling with addiction for over 19 years. He first started as an intake counselor for a drug rehabilitation center in 2000. During his 5 years as an intake counselor, he helped many addicts get the treatment they needed. He also dealt with the families and friends of those people; he saw first-hand how much strain addiction puts on a family and how it can tear relationships apart. With drug and alcohol problems constantly on the rise in the United States and Canada, he decided to use the Internet as a way to educate and help many more people in both those countries. This was 15 years ago. Since then, Marcel has built two of the largest websites in the U.S. and Canada which reach and help millions of people each year. He is an author and a leader in the field of drug and alcohol addiction. His main focus is threefold: education, prevention and rehabilitation. To this day, he still strives to be at the forefront of technology in order to help more and more people. He is a Licensed Drug and Alcohol Treatment Specialist graduate with Honours of Stratford Career Institute. Marcel has also received a certificate from Harvard for completing a course entitled The Opioid Crisis in America and a certificate from The University of Adelaide for completing a course entitled AddictionX: Managing Addiction: A Framework for Succesful Treatment.