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Child safety advocates warn about drug dealers targeting children on social media

Posted at 9:28 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 14:39:50-04

There's a disturbing trend of drug dealers turning to social media to find new clients, especially young ones, that they can hook at an early age.

Child safety advocates tell ABC15 these criminals are using apps like Snapchat, TikTok, Kik, and Instagram to build bonds with teenagers.

"It's, unfortunately, all way too easy," said Detective Scott Pietrzak who is part of the Mesa Police Department's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and owner of Online Safety Specialists, a business he founded to educate parents about dangerous predators targeting children online.

With a few taps on their smartphones, Pietrzak said these drug deals could be taking place right under your roof, and right under your nose.

"What these guys are doing is basically becoming friends with all these kids out there," said Pietrzak.

"Once they become friends with them, it's easy for them to advertise what they're selling. Whether it be, you know, marijuana or fentanyl, cocaine, LSD, heroin," added Pietrzak.

The drugs could be delivered to your front door, or hand-delivered to teens at local parks. What has child safety advocates so concerned about these shady deals are how dangerous these street drugs could be.

"These kiddos are not even realizing what they're taking is Fentanyl," said Natalia Chimbo-Andrade, with the Mesa Prevention Coalition and Community Bridges.

"We're losing more and more teens not only in the state of Arizona, but across the nation," she added.

Drug experts have identified Fentanyl as a substance so dangerous, even tiny amounts, the size of a grain of sand could be enough to lead to an overdose or death.

Safety advocates with Child Crisis Arizona said the latest report released by the Maricopa County Medical Examiner showed that the number of fentanyl cases had continued to double annually since 2015, and it was quickly becoming the most common drug detected in overdoses.

Multiple organizations including Child Crisis Arizona have come together with groups like the Mesa Prevention Coalition, Community Bridges, and the Substance Abuse Coalition of Arizona to host educational classes for parents, to educate the public about these dangerous trends impacting youth's lives.

These classes outline the problem, talk about steps parents could take to recognize "coded language" on their children's phones and teach them how to turn tracking apps off, so drug dealers could not pinpoint where the child lived.

"One of the things that we teach in some of our classes is that, you know, letting our kids know ahead of time, some of the rules and boundaries around having a cell phone for example," said Liliana Ramirez, an Education Specialist with Child Crisis Arizona.

"You need to set those boundaries early on," added Chimbo-Andrade.

Your child should expect you to check their messages, and give you access to all passwords, according to child safety advocates.

"Talk to your child about a cell phone contract. There are consequences if they violate that contract," said Chimbo-Andrade.

ON Wednesday, June 2, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. the groups will be hosting a free class for parents titled "Snapchat as a drug-dealing trend." The class will repeat again on August 17, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Another class titled "Fentanyl in Arizona" is set to take place on Thursday, June 10 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and again on Wednesday, July 21 from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.

Those who are interested in attending have to pre-register for the class in order to get the Zoom link. To pre-register go to