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DEA says dealers are 'harnessing the power of social media,' using emojis to sell drugs online

DEA issues a warning
Posted at 5:33 PM, Mar 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-30 18:18:15-04

CLEVELAND — The Drug Enforcement Administration is warning about harmless-looking emojis that are now being used to get a menacing message out on social media. It’s a language of its own, developed to avoid detection from law enforcement and parents.

“They are harnessing the power of social media to sell drugs online,” said Brian McNeal, the Public Information Officer for the DEA's Detroit Division.

The images look innocent, but combined, signal certain types of drugs for sale. For instance, a brown heart and a dragon is code for heroin, a cookie represents a large batch. “Drug trafficking organizations for years have used coded language, whether it’s a nickname for a drug, or something along those lines, this is just the evolution of that,” explained McNeal.

According to law enforcement, when emojis are strung together in a certain order it spells out a type of drug or message. Officials said drug dealers are advertising to buyers what they have in stock. McNeal said they are using all social media platforms to buy and sell drugs.

DEA guide of emojis.

McNeal said DEA agents decoded the code during a surge late last year as part of its One Pill Can Kill campaign.

“We want parents and love ones and caregivers to know that these emojis are being used on social media to advertise by the seller and by people looking to buy the drug are available online,” said McNeal. Of the 570 cases nationwide agents investigated, McNeal said 76 were directly tied to social media and the use of emojis; 39 of those cases were tied directly to Mexican Drug Cartels.

McNeal points out that just because you see the emojis isn’t always an absolute indicator. However, combined with behavior, perhaps problems at school or work, that could indicate a substance abuse issue.

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