Drug dealers are targeting borough youngsters over Instagram and Snapchat, a Wigan charity has warned.
Senior officers at the borough’s Addaction are today warning parents that teenagers are using an array of hashtags and emojis as codes to communicate with dealers.
We assessed someone using code words and emojis on SnapchatSarah Goodall
Wigan and Leigh Recovery Partnership’s Addaction team warns criminals are peddling illegal substances such as ecstasy tablets to naive youngsters through the likes of Instagram and Snapchat without any explicit references to transactions - instead covertly arranging to meet the children in person.
They say far too many young people they assess are pre-teens; sometimes encountering 10 and 11-year-olds who engage with older people to acquire substances that can be devastatingly harmful even to fully grown adults.
Young Addaction spoke to Wigan Evening Post about becoming aware of the ease with which young people were obtaining drugs through social media.
Team leader Sarah Goodall said: “We’ve been aware of this since last summer.
“One of the things we were seeing was a rise in young people getting drugs, so we investigated how. They (teenagers) are actually quite honest, and they will just tell you.”
People flock to Snapchat and Instagram for their inclusive, more private designs - shunning Facebook for being too easily exposed to prying eyes.
Sarah added: “We assessed someone using code words and emojis on Snapchat.
“Some hashtags like #BOOM, are specific to each dealer, but they always change quickly because people catch up. As soon as an organisation has worked out what’s happening, they’ll have moved onto something else.”
And Addaction staff say the difficulties in policing the issue, and the dilemma of having to invade a child’s privacy to get to the bottom of what they’re doing, makes it all the more difficult.
Services manager Siobhan Peters said: “We’re seeing this happening with younger and younger people.
“They talk about it so casually, I don’t think they realise how open they’re leaving themselves to danger by getting in cars with older men and strangers.”
“It’s very similar to grooming. They (drug dealers) come across really friendly and charming. They’re good at making it look really cool.
“The kids mistake it for friendship and aren’t alerted to the actual danger of what’s happening.
“Young people are taught about grooming and child exploitation. Maybe they should be taught about this too.”
People under 18 can contact the Young Person’s Drugs and Alcohol Service (YPDAS) on 01942 865591.