‘It’s about saving lives’: DEA creates emoji drug code as more drug sales are made online

The Drug Enforcement Administration released an emoji drug code guide to educate parents,...
The Drug Enforcement Administration released an emoji drug code guide to educate parents, teachers and community members about dangers of social media and drug sales.(WECT)
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 9:04 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The Drug Enforcement Administration recently created an emoji drug code guide because of the increase in drug-related deaths.

“We realized that individuals, mostly young individuals, were buying drugs online and cartels are pushing them online and when you look at the use of internet companies and social media, it’s because these drug dealers can remain anonymous and accessible to a new target audience,” said Matthew O’Brien, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the DEA’s Raleigh District Office. “So, the DEA wanted to take it upon ourselves to kind of decode these emojis with the use of social media.”

O’Brien says the importance of this guide is saving lives because of the rise in opioid overdose deaths.

“It’s really for parents, educators, community influencers. What we really wanna look at is it’s protecting the youth first and foremost. Kids are hopping online, they have a smart phone and what you realize now with smart phones, unfortunately, drug dealers are with you everywhere. They’re in your home, in your bedroom, in your school every day. They’re just one click away,” O’Brien said.

One of the biggest concerns is Fentanyl and the increase in it’s use for fake prescription drugs.

“For the pills that contain fentanyl, two out of every five or about 40% have a lethal amount of fentanyl. So, if you wanna know what that’s like, you take the salt shaker, shake it out and count out 10 to 20 grains, that’s lethal, that’s deadly,” O’Brien said. “We just want people to understand, parents to understand, kids, everybody, that that pill — that it looks legitimate. If you’re not buying it from a real medical professional, it could kill you. You don’t know what you’re getting, [it’s] likely to have a lethal amount of fentanyl in it, and that’s sadly why we’re seeing the rise.”

The emoji guide lays out examples of commonly used codes for popular drugs like meth, heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Click here to view the DEA’s Emoji Drug Code.

O’Brien says it’s best to start a conversation with your child if you notice any changes in behavior.

“Start a conversation. Use of social media or emojis is not indicative of criminal behavior, but that, in combination with maybe a change of behavior or increase in cash flow or some other kind of behavioral change, it’s at least something to be cautious about, to look at,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien added that the number of overdoses in the state and region is alarming.

“What we have seen statewide is that from about 2015 to now the overdoses have doubled so that’s still an alarming amount for us in North Carolina.”

Data from the DEA shows the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office and Wilmington Police Department responded to more than 460 overdose incidents last year, which is 200 more incidents than in 2019.

For more information about overdose deaths and emergency department visits for specific areas, click here.

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