Drug dealers using social media to sell cocaine and cannabis to children

Tap to watch a video report by ITV News Meridian's James Dunham

Social media websites Instagram and Snapchat are being used as a platform for dealers to sell dangerous and deadly drugs.

ITV News Meridian has uncovered dozens of open and public accounts appearing to advertise substances such as cocaine and cannabis like pick and mix.

Our findings have raised concerns that more needs to be done to not only tackle the illegal online practice but to also educate young people about the dangers surrounding drug use.

It comes as figures from Kent Police show a ten year old child was suspected of drug offences last year.

"They don't know what they're getting, they don't know what's in it" says Nicci Parish who lost her 24-year old son Billy to drugs.

Nicci, has now setup the Billy and Beyond Foundation and is working with Fiona Spargo-Mabbs who runs the Daniel Spargo-Mabbs foundation after her son her died after taking ecstasy.

Fiona said, "It just makes it far, far, far too easy. Nicci and I know the potential price that they might pay and the fact it is just people doing that for money, making money from children's vulnerability, it's difficult not to be angered by it."

'Stay high, no snitching' - how social media is being used as an online shop window for illegal substances

Nicci's concern is that the content glamourises drug taking and worries about the illegal content appearing to become acceptable.

"It's really scary

. It's really frightening to think the young children are being able to see these. And I could almost imagine, you know, 13 or 14 years olds,, if there's a couple of them looking at these sites, that it could almost be exciting."

One an account in Portsmouth advertised its services as 'fast and safe' whilst in Southampton a profile said, 'satisfying my clients is my number one priority'.

Others promised 'drug deliveries to doorsteps' and told users 'no snitching'.

Under 18 drug offences recorded in 2021 by police

"Broadly speaking, we've let young people down in terms of education around drugs"

Nick Hickmott is a youth worker focussed on early intervention for young people affected by drug use and says the sort of online material we discovered is being seen by children and teenagers.

Nick, who works for the charity We Are With You, doesn't believe the solution is as simple as shutting down social media accounts and believes more communication is needed with children to get an insight into how the exposure might affect them.

"Broadly speaking, we've let young people down in terms of education around drugs. When we take into account the amount that they are consuming in terms of the information on social media, the memes around drugs, but also the streaming services that are available.

"We literally have thousands of titles where young people can watch documentaries right up to, absolute nonsense around substances as well and so somewhere in the middle of that, we need to give them some common sense.

"We need to keep them safe around drugs, and we do need to have more and more education."

Thames Valley Police this year launched a targeted unit focussed on tackling county lines which often involve children being exploited by criminal gangs to transport illegal substances from location to location.

The force's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Barber says drug users are fuelling the problem.

"The fact that it [drugs] comes through a slick social media account and appears to be consequence free, it most certainly is not.

"If you're a drug user in Thames Valley, it's incredibly likely that your drugs will be supplied through the exploitation of children and young people and vulnerable individuals in your own community.

"Taking drugs has real consequences for the place that you live in.

Technology is used to fuel drugs lines. Credit: Thames Valley Police

Social media sites are trying to deal with the problem by removing accounts and upgrading technology to better detect accounts which display content related to drugs.

Meanwhile warning messages offering links to advice and support also appear should a user enter a search term.

Meta, which owns Instagram, said: "The buying and selling of illegal substances isn’t allowed on our platforms and we have removed the accounts flagged to us. We encourage our community to report activity like this using our in app reporting tools and also to the police."

Meanwhile a Snapchat spokesperson said,

"Using Snapchat to buy or sell drugs is strictly against our rules. We actively look for and ban accounts and search terms associated with drug dealing and use industry leading technology to find and remove drug-related content.

"We also partner with organisations like Frank to provide in-app information about the dangers of drugs. There will always be people who try to evade our rules, and that’s why tackling this behaviour continues to be a priority."

A Government spokesperson said:

"We are working with law enforcement to remove posts which advertise illegal drugs and to crack down on criminal dealers who supply banned substances to our communities.

"We have also introduced the Online Safety Bill, which will require internet companies to identify and remove the most serious illegal content online, including content relating to the sale of illegal drugs."