Update on Our Ongoing Work to Combat the U.S. Fentanyl Epidemic

Last year, as part of our ongoing efforts to understand young people’s awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and the broader epidemic of counterfeit pills, we conducted a survey of young Americans and found that nearly half (46%) rated their average stress level as 7 out of 10 or above. Nearly 9 in 10 (86%) of respondents agreed that people their age feel overwhelmed.

By now, it is well understood and documented that the U.S. is facing a significant mental health crisis among young people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021, 37% of high schoolers reported poor mental health, while 44% reported they persistently felt sad or hopeless during the past year. 

This era of extraordinary challenges to emotional well-being has contributed to an epidemic of young people, including teenagers, turning to illicit prescription drugs as a coping mechanism. Tragically, drug cartels are preying on young people’s search for coping mechanisms, flooding the country with cheap, counterfeit prescription pills that are frequently poisoned with fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times more potent than morphine. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, over 40% of illicit pills tested contained potentially lethal levels of fentanyl. 

Studies show prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing form of drug abuse among teens, with as many as one in six teenagers reporting using prescription drugs to alter their moods or other purposes. Across the nation, scores of Americans, including a growing number of young Americans, are dying from fentanyl after taking what they believed were safer, legitimate prescription pills.

According to our own study, about 15% of those aged 13-24 have abused prescription medicines, one in five have thought about doing so, and 40% know someone who has done so. Eighty-four % say coping with anxiety and stress is the reason they and their peers are turning to pills.

At Snap, we have always had a zero-tolerance policy against using our platform in connection with illicit drug sales, and have focused on combating the fentanyl epidemic in three key ways: by constantly improving our technologies for proactively detecting this content and shutting down drug dealers who abuse our platform; by strengthening our support for law enforcement; and by partnering with expert organizations to educate Snapchatters directly in our app about the horrific dangers of fentanyl. You can learn more about our strategy in previous public updates here and here

It’s been a year since we launched the first steps of our ongoing in-app public awareness campaign and we wanted to provide an overview of continuing work to address this crisis from every angle:  

  • We have engaged former heads of federal drug enforcement agencies to advise us on these efforts, and work closely with experts in counternarcotics, the law enforcement community, organizations focused on raising awareness of fentanyl and counterfeit pills, and parents. 

  • To further strengthen our support for law enforcement investigations, we have heavily invested in growing our own law enforcement operations team by 74% over the last year, with many of these new team members joining from careers as prosecutors and law enforcement officials with experience in youth safety. Last October, we held our first annual Law Enforcement Summit, with more than 1,700 law enforcement officials from federal, state and local agencies participating. 

  • We are investing heavily in AI and machine learning tools to proactively detect dangerous drug activity on Snapchat, and work with experts to find illicit drug-related content across other platforms that references Snapchat, so we can find drug dealers’ accounts and take swift action to shut them down. As a result, our detection volumes have increased by more than 25% since the beginning of the year, and 90% of identified violating illicit drug content is proactively detected before any Snapchatter has the opportunity to report it.

  • When we find illicit drug dealers using our platform, we promptly ban their accounts, and take steps to block them from creating new ones. We cooperate with law enforcement investigations, including by preserving and disclosing data in response to valid legal requests. 

  • We block search results on Snapchat for drug keywords and slang, and instead show educational content from experts about the dangers of fentanyl through an in-app portal called Heads Up. Our partners include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), Truth Initiative, and the SAFE Project. Since the launch of Heads Up, over 2.5 million Snapchatters have been proactively served content from these organizations. 

  • We have also added new measures to limit Snapchatters under 18 from showing up in search results or as a friend suggestion to someone else unless they have friends in common. This builds on protections we’ve long had in place that require teens to be friends with another Snapchatter in order to communicate directly.

  • We have launched several series of video advertising campaigns in our app to educate Snapchatters about fentanyl. Our first, launched last summer in partnership with Song for Charlie, was viewed over 260 million times on Snapchat. Last month, as part of National Fentanyl Awareness Day, we ran another set of in-app public service announcements, a national Lens, and filter that were viewed nearly 60 million times. 

  • Our in-house news show, Good Luck America, which is promoted on our content platform in Snapchat and is also available in Heads Up, has been covering the fentanyl crisis for more than a year through a special dedicated series, which has been viewed by more than 900,000 Snapchatters to date. 

  • As part of our larger strategy, we’re also committed to working with other platforms. We recently began a pilot program with Meta in which we are sharing patterns and signals of illicit drug-related content and activity. This signal-sharing program allows both platforms to bolster our proactive detection efforts in finding and removing illicit drug content and dealer accounts. We look forward to continuing this collaboration, with the goal of having other platforms join us as we work across industry to help combat the growing fentanyl epidemic. 

  • Last month, we announced that we’re teaming up with the Ad Council and other tech platforms, including Google and Meta, on an unprecedented public awareness campaign that will launch this summer to help both young people and parents learn more about the dangers of fentanyl. Learn more about this new campaign here.

  • As an app built for communicating with real friends, who are a critical support system for each other when dealing with mental health challenges, we continue to expand our in-app tools and resources on a range of mental health topics – a long-term and ongoing priority for us. (Learn more here and here). 

  • Additionally, we’re developing new in-app tools for parents and caregivers to give them more insight into who their teens are talking to on Snapchat, while still respecting Snapchatters’ privacy. We plan to roll these new features out in the coming months.

Taken together, we believe these measures are making Snapchat an increasingly hostile environment for drug dealers and we will continue to examine how we can keep meaningfully improving our efforts, knowing dealers will always look for ways to evade our systems. 

We also recognize that this issue goes far beyond Snapchat. Ultimately, the solution to this epidemic lies in a nationwide effort to address the root causes of this crisis, including the conditions that create such profound mental health challenges for young people. We will keep working with and listening to our community on this critical topic. Our long-term goal as a society must be nothing less than a world in which far fewer young people experience mental health challenges and those that do have equitable access to appropriate services and care, rather than feeling they must turn to illicit drugs. This will require a coordinated effort between government, law enforcement, the technology sector, health care services and more, and we are committed to doing everything we can to help support this goal.