PHOENIX — Emojis have a language of their own and criminal organizations are using them as code words to buy and sell counterfeit pills and other illicit drugs on social media through e-commerce.
As fentanyl wreaks havoc in communities across the U.S. the Drug Enforcement Administration created a guide for parents, caregivers, and teachers to educate how this language is being used in conjunction with illegal drugs.
A brown heart, diamond, and candy emoji may look innocent in a message conversation, but in a combination, they can be code for something else.
A cookie, a snowman, and a box with a parachute next to it mean "a large batch of cocaine has arrived," according to the guide.
The list is not “all-inclusive” and emojis, on their own, should not be indicative of illegal activity, the DEA said.
“You have to couple it with behaviors, appearance, and mood swings, to identify if there is an addiction going on,” said Blayne Archer, Director of Business Development at Soul Surgery, a treatment facility that also focuses on mental health.
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With the rise of social media, there’s an increase in avenues for drug traffickers to market illicit drugs, making it easier for users to buy them.
“It’s very easy,” Archer said. “There’s Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. One of the big things is that you can attach your debit or credit card to PayPal, Venmo, or Zelle, which makes it a lot easier to obtain what they are looking for.”
Archer said addiction can start at a young age, for him it was when he was 10 years old. A combination of health and mental problems, with physical abuse and bullying at school, led him to self-medicate.
He first began to use Vicodin and Percocet.
“Freshman year in high school I started using heroin and that didn’t stop until I got to be 24 years old,” Archer said. “For nine years I chased that high.”
Monitoring kids’ social media accounts and talking to them, could save lives and not lead them to a painful road, Archer said.
In 2021, the DEA seized 20.4 million fake prescription pills that most were laced with fentanyl. The agency said that was more than the last two precious years combined.
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