DENVER (KDVR) — A victims advocate group has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the parent company of Snapchat alleging the social media app was used to buy opioids that were laced with fentanyl and resulted in the death of several teenagers around the country, including Colorado.

Eight fentanyl-related deaths are listed in the Social Media Victims Law Center lawsuit including 18-year-old Max Osterman of Thornton in 2021. The suit states that Osterman died of fentanyl poisoning after taking a pill posed to be Percocet sold to him by the Snapchat dealer identified as Sergio, on Feb. 3, 2021.

The lawsuit said that police provided Snap with a preservation notice on Feb. 9, 2021, then served an Order for Production of Records on March 8, 2021.

Allegedly Snap did not immediately respond claiming a technical error more than two months later. A second order issued in November 2021 only took Snap a few days to respond to but the lengthy delay caused a loss of evidence and it was decided to not pursue criminal charges against the dealer, the lawsuit said.

“The Social Media Victims Law Center will continue to hold Snap, Inc. and its social media product Snapchat legally accountable for the sale of illicit drugs on its site and its features that allow drug dealers to operate without fear of facing justice for their crimes,” Matthew P. Bergman, founding attorney of SMVLC said. “Snapchat needs to take immediate action to stop connecting drug dealers with minors and young adults who have no idea that they are playing Russian Roulette with their lives when unknowingly purchasing medications that are laced with deadly levels of fentanyl. It’s time for Snap to put an end to its Snapchat cartel.”

In a statement made by a Snapchat spokesperson:

The trafficking of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl is an urgent national crisis. We are devastated that these counterfeit drugs have taken the lives of so many people, and our hearts go out to families who have suffered unimaginable losses. We are committed to bringing every resource to bear to help fight this national crisis, both on Snapchat and across the tech industry overall. 

While we can’t comment specifically on active litigation, we can share all the progress we have made in this area. We use cutting-edge technology to proactively find and shut down drug dealers’ accounts, and we block search results for drug-related terms, instead redirecting Snapchatters to resources from experts about the dangers of fentanyl. We have also expanded our support for law enforcement investigations, promoted in-app educational videos warning about the dangers of counterfeit pills that have been viewed over 260 million times on Snapchat, and are partnering with the Ad Council, non-profit organizations, and other platforms on an unprecedented national public awareness campaign that launched in October.”

Snapchat spokesperson

A 17-year-old boy and an 18-year-old man that died in the same area as Osterman of fake pills laced with fentanyl also involved Snapchat, police reports said according to the SMVLC news release.

The Snapchat dealer, Sergio, had been allegedly connected to a 2020 overdose of a 17-year-old girl who survived, the release said. That dealer still had a Snapchat account as of July 2022.

The other teens and young adults involved in the lawsuit are:

  • Michael Stabile, 15, from Coure d’Alene, Idaho
  • Ava Sorenson, 17, from Gilbert, Arizona
  • Manuel “Manny” Navarro, 17, from Chino Hills, California
  • Finale Jaeger, 18, from Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Cody Mehlos, 21, from Big Bear Lake, California
  • Ciara Gilliam, 22, from Des Moines, Iowa

Snapchat told FOX31 the company is using machine learning, community reports of drug-related content, and expert-guided methods on detecting drug dealers and banning their accounts.