DENVER (KDVR) — Kids are using a secret language to coordinate buying drugs like fentanyl right here in Colorado.
The FOX31 Problem Solvers are cracking the code with the Drug Enforcement Administration, learning the emojis parents need to understand to get a better idea of what their kids might be trying to buy.
In a digital day and age, influence on youth is more prevalent than ever and in the palm of their hands. However, it’s not just the beauty gurus or craft creators who reach them. David Olesky, active special agent in charge for DEA Rocky Mountain Field Division, is seeing otherwise.
“We’re seeing a variety of social media apps being utilized by drug traffickers to reach the end user,” Olesky said. “So that could be TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook Marketplace.”
Emojis used to communicate drug deals
Along with using the most common social media apps, there’s the evolving emoji vernacular the DEA is decoding.
“Where something which might seem as innocent or innocuous as a cookie emoji, that might symbolize a new batch has arrived,” Olesky said. “Or, if you have a rocket emoji, that symbolizes the potency of a product.”
Oleski is noticing local students are catching on to the double-meaning emoji messages.
“I was recently in a classroom talking before a group of high school students, and I said, ‘Well, what do you think the plug emoji looks like?’ And more than half the kids started raising their hands to say, ‘That means you have a new source, you have a new hookup,'” Olesky said.
The DEA finds dealers may also use additional emojis with the plug to show a package arrived or a delivery.
Which emojis are used for which drugs?
Getting into the specific drugs, for oxycodone, the DEA is decoding 14 different possible emojis that could be referring to a deal around them — including a pot of honey or a shopping cart.
The pill emoji commonly could be referring to Xanax, Percocet, Adderall, MDMA or molly. Each also has additional emojis: a train for Adderall, chocolate or a bus for Xanax, lightning bolts and candy for MDMA.
“For fentanyl pills, we have also seen in terms of Skittles,” he said. “Nowadays we’re seeing rainbow and multi-colored pills. So you’ll see an assortment of vernacular that’s just associated with the color nature of it.”
The DEA has a reference sheet for decoding drug-related emojis.
“These are kids who are 14, 15 years old, who they know better, the terminologies and the code words that are being utilized,” Olesky said.