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DEA: Arizona teens can use emojis to buy and sell drugs

A red heart emoji can mean heroin in drug slang. Social media runs the world and it is an outlet for many things, one being the source of drugs.

Teens are victims of social media and drug dealers are using emoticons on these platforms to sell counterfeit drugs. For example, a snowflake can mean cocaine, a palm tree can stand for marijuana, a crystal ball or blue heart can mean meth, and a maple leaf can be universal for all drugs.

Cheri Oz is a special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Phoenix field division. She said 44% of all drugs coming into the United States are laced with fentanyl. Cartel and drug dealers are using social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and, most of all, Snapchat to sell their products. 

“Different drug traffickers can come up with their own things certainly for their customers but what we are seeing in social media is really a desire and a marketing towards extending their customer base,” said Oz.

She says the drugs that are being sold look like normal prescription drugs, however, they aren't. Cartels in Mexico are making counterfeit drugs that are rainbow color and appear to look like candy. Teens are buying them for cheap and aren't surviving the fentanyl dosage. 

"They look like fun and innocent pills. They are not fun and innocent. They are dangerous and deadly. They look innocents but don't be fooled by the marketing. There are no good stories that have fentanyl in them. They start with tragedy and end with tragedy'" said Oz.

Oz said every drug is associated with its own emoji. While the codes look fun and innocent, they represent danger. In 2020, nearly 950 teens ages 14-18 died of an overdose and fentanyl is a leading cause. The DEA launched a campaign called, “One Pill Can Kill” to educate the public and is promoting a decoder. This campaign is nationwide and the DEA is promoting it to schools for its students.

"One pill can truly kill, so please educate the youth to not make that one mistake," Oz said. 

Ashley Madrigal is an intern at KJZZ. She is a senior in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where she is completing a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism.Originally from San Diego, Madrigal takes pride in her hometown. When she is not focusing on school work, she is coaching boxing and indoor cycling, cheering for her San Diego teams or hiking with her golden retriever.