A 15-year-old wants to buy drugs but doesn’t want to talk to the weird dealer in the bad part of town. She’s heard about one drug — actually legal — that kids have bought online that is seven times stronger than morphine.
She types the name of the drug into a search engine, and a bunch of websites come up claiming to sell it. She clicks on one and the pictures show little baggies of the powder for sale in different amounts. The three-gram bag is $80. She ignores the warnings that this drug is not meant for human consumption. She dismisses the fine print that says these drugs are only meant for chemical research. She doesn’t care about the small type that says a buyer should be older than 18. The website claims a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and has links to connect with the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
It must be legit.
She uses her debit card to pay and the synthetic opioid U-47700 is on its way from China. The drug may not get to this girl. Customs may flag it for some reason and stop delivery. But just as likely, that legal, lethal drug will land right on her doorstep in plain brown wrapping.
This scenario may sound far-fetched, but it's happening every day in many neighborhoods in America. Sometimes it’s easy to ignore the drug problem in our country. It seems to only affect certain zip codes or people we don’t know. But an email hit my inbox last week from my small school district telling me that neighboring Park City issued an alert. The warning was about the drug U-47700 — also known as Pink or Pinky — an extremely dangerous drug growing in popularity. The drug has already caused at least two fatal overdoses in Utah (Salt Lake County and Iron County) and could soon be linked to more.
Doesn’t it seem like the government and law enforcement should somehow be able to stop cyber dealers from selling drugs to our kids online? The sad truth is it’s nearly impossible for these entities to keep up with the expansiveness and anonymity of the web.
Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has studied the phenomenon and says bad guys can too easily tweak websites and often offer no identifying information that could help track down the companies. Plus, the drugs’ makeups are constantly changing, making them hard to nail down. Brian Besser, the agent in charge of the state of Utah for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, says, “It’s like playing Whac-A-Mole at the fair. As soon as you take care of one, another one pops up. Especially with these synthetic drugs or these designer drugs. They are manmade, so all a chemist has to do is tweak his recipe just slightly chemically — maybe change a molecule here or there — and you can have a completely different drug and now it’s no longer illegal but the euphoric effects are very similar to the one that is illegal.”
What can parents do to try and ensure this dangerous trend stays out of their homes?
Talk to your children about the danger of drugs. It may have been a while since you discussed drugs in your home. Kids need to know that even legal, prescription drugs can be abused. Parents can explain how some drugs can be deadly just by touching them. It needs to be a "not even once" policy.
Closely monitor Internet usage. Put the family computer in a common area. This tip is an oldie, but a goodie. It’s really hard to know what’s happening on a computer in a kid’s bedroom. Also, make sure to periodically check browser histories.
Download parental control software. PCmag has ranked the best for 2016. Parents can also go into parental controls and simply block any websites that could be a potential problem.
Monitor your children’s bank statements. If a child is old enough to have a debit or credit card, parents should be checking those statements for irregular usage.
Hire someone. If mom and dad have no idea how to keep their kids safe online, there is no shame in hiring a professional to safeguard tech at your home.
Amy Iverson is a graduate of the University of Utah. She has worked as a broadcast journalist in Dallas, Seattle, Italy and Salt Lake City. Amy, her husband and three kids live in Summit County, Utah. Contact Amy on Facebook, Twitter,Instagram, Pinterest and LinkedIn.