49ºF

Teens getting drugs through Instagram

Parents need to monitor hashtags, look at child's search-history

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Illegal drugs, nearly any variety, are for sale on social media sites like Instagram, and they are not hard to find. And parents beware: Kids already know how to find what they want. 

Instagram, a photo-based social media platform, allows users to maintain a certain degree of anonymity, which appears to attract drug dealers who advertise their goods with full color photos. Certain hashtags, or search keywords, allow kids to easily find what they are looking for.

"Marijuana, Xanax, Coke, Serequil, Serenity," listed off a 17-year-old former drug user, who we are not identifying.

He said he got his drugs the same way a lot of young people do: With a cellphone and a social media account, he had direct access to a drug dealer.

"People need to be aware. Parents need to be aware," warned Officer Melissa Bujeda with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (pictured below).

Social media sites, especially photo-oriented Instagram, have become incredibly effective tools for advertising illegal drugs with hashtags that can change daily. 

"It's definitely something we monitor on a regular basis," added Bujeda.

An Instagram user can display photos of what's offered like marijuana, Xanax pills and other drugs.

"Post a picture of it and tell them the price," explained the unidentified teen.

We did a search on Instagram and found what appeared to be a Jacksonville man blatantly selling drugs. We then found what appeared to be a local teen trying to buy.

The first post, "I'm in the Duval area, can you spot me a couple nugs...?"
The response, "Which side you live on homie"
Then the follow-up response, "Wes side doe"

DrugAbuse.com studied the new way to peddle drugs. Researchers found that 82 percent of the Instagram dealers are selling at least marijuana, 58 percent are selling codeine syrup and 20 percent Ecstasy. Prescription drugs and cocaine made the list as well. The study also found that 58 percent of the drug dealers show the money they've made, and 34 percent go as far as showing their own faces.

Law enforcement admits it's happening right under our noses.

"We see it on a regular basis," said Bujeda. "A lot of these people post under fictitious names."

The aliases are endless as social media sites and meeting places change and hashtags come and go. It's all a moving target for not only police, but parents.

The unidentified teen stays at a live-in drug treatment center for teens in Houston, Texas. And with increasing frequency, the facility sees kids who made their drug deals via social media. Counselors there say parents have a responsibility.

"Monitoring social media, you're able to do that," said Constance Phillips, the admissions manager at the Houston drug treatment facility for teenagers.

So what can parents do beyond the standard monitor your kid's online habits and watch who they are hanging out with?

"There is some secret language, but for the most part you can hashtag 'marijuana', hashtag 'Xanax', any drug you can think of, you can find that on social media," said Phillips (pictured).

Check your child's Instagram search history and see what they are searching for and looking at. As Bujeda said, while the hashtags change often, even daily, some popular drug-related hashtags right now are #BluntGang #DuvalDank #DabbinDuval #DuvalDanknugs #JaxWeed.

"It's definitely something we monitor on a regular basis," said Bujeda. "But a lot of times these hashtags, which parents definitely need to be concerned about, have the word 'Jax' or 'Jacksonville' in them and they are targeting people in the local community."

"I'll say that it's way easier now than it was before," added the unidentified teen.

Bujeda said there is another clue parents should look out for on their child's digital devices.

"You go into your child's phone and you go into the search history and it's been cleared, there is an issue," she warned. "Why are they clearing the search history? Because they don't want you to find out."

Bujeda said if that happens, parents should take the phone away.

"You have to be the parent, you have to be monitoring the phone, you have to be in charge," she added.