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DEA warns these emojis can be used to advertise drugs on social media

The DEA says drug dealers are using social media to advertise fake pills and drugs. Officials say they are often laced with a potentially deadly dose of fentanyl.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — When Stacy Williamson hears the word fentanyl, she thinks of Russian Roulette.

“I think it's like walking in front of a semi-truck going 100 miles an hour,” Williamson said.

Her daughter, Amber-Lee Johnson, got hooked on pain pills following an injury. That addiction led her to heroin.

“This can't happen to my family,” Williamson said. “This isn't happening to my daughter, my daughter, you know, this is what she does for a living.”

Williamson was shocked because her daughter worked at a substance abuse center as a drug counselor.

“That’s all she wanted to do her whole life was help other people,” Williamson said.

Johnson, 28, had been clean for four months when she relapsed. It was Sep. 25, 2018. 

Her five-year-old son thought his mom was asleep. When Williamson went to see why he wasn’t at school, she found her daughter dead.

“I just started yelling, I'm like, ‘Get up right now.’ And so, I went over, and I touched her, and she was cold. Really cold,” Williamson recalled.

What her daughter thought was heroin was laced with a lethal dose of fentanyl.

Credit: First Coast News
Stacy Williamson holds a picture of her daughter, Amber-Lee Johnson, who died of fentanyl toxicity.

“I know it's been four years and a lot of people think that I should be okay and I put on a good act, but it is a heavy, heavy weight,” Williamson said. “I'm not okay, you know? Not okay. I see people every day die.”

Drug overdoses killed more than 107,000 people last year in the U.S. The majority involved synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl.

Agnes Winokur, the director of the DEA's lab in Miami that analyzes seized evidence says multiple drugs are often being mixed together without the user knowing.

“When you think of heroin danger alone, but then when you mix it, and it has fentanyl in it, it's just incredible the danger that this poses in the public,” Winokur said. “It's a ticking time bomb.”

The DEA warns parents that drug traffickers are marketing drugs and fake pills on social media.

“We all have to be investigators and pay attention to things that change, and I just didn't notice it went right over my head,” Williamson said.

She later learned her daughter was using Snapchat to communicate with her dealer. According to the DEA, drug traffickers are advertising on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube, often in stories that disappear. 

They then communicate through encrypted apps like WhatsApp, Signal, and Telegram.

“Anyone who has a smartphone, and they're engaged on a social media platform, a drug dealer could find you on there,” Deputy Special Agent in Charge Mark Skeffington said.

Skeffington is with the DEA's Miami Field Division. He wants parents to be aware that dealers are using emojis in conjunction with illegal drugs. This is what you need to look out for, and Skeffington says parents need to talk to their kids about fentanyl.

Credit: DEA
DEA emoji codes

“They need to have those honest and open conversations at the age they feel is appropriate, but at a young age, middle school or high school. This is a significant threat,” Skeffington said.

Williamson is carrying on her daughter’s legacy, spreading awareness to help families know the hidden and deadly dangers that fentanyl poses.

“If we all looked at it like having a plane crash every single day, that is what it's like. This is an epidemic,” Williamson said. “This is something we have to open our eyes about, and we have to be compassionate. And we have to do some learning.”

For resources on how to talk to your children about fentanyl click here.

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