SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A new disturbing trend — kids are doing drug deals on the down low, using their smartphones. The result can have deadly consequences, and it's on the rise due to the pandemic.

We know kids, especially teens, spent a majority of their time online this past year. Mental health experts say that's led to more opportunity for them to experiment, in some cases, buying drugs without their parents knowing until it's too late. First, it'd happen at school. But then, the school shutdowns during the pandemic didn't matter.

"It happened a lot through the smartphone. It happened a lot. Once we starting realizing, she started sneaking it into social media instant messaging," said a mom of a 16-year-old daughter who asked we keep them both anonymous. She said this past year they lived a nightmare.

"In the beginning, it was marijuana, but slowly turned to LSD," she said. "There were pills involved of an unknown substance, fentanyl at times."

Her daughter found every way possible to get drugs. Her parents got her into an outpatient substance abuse program, but it didn't work.

"Even there, she relapsed 2-3 times and ended up having to go to a resident wilderness program," her mom said.

Rehab. A place this mom never thought her daughter would go, but her teen certainly wasn't the only one struggling with this.

"We lost two students last week to the same type of overdose," said youth mental health expert Katey McPherson. "These substances are much more potent than they used to be, and one pill can be laced with something that is lethal."

McPherson said the pandemic has made the problem skyrocket. According to Maricopa County officials, nearly 1,800 people died from drug overdoses in 2020, almost double the rate of the year before.

"They're not texting anymore; they're Snapchatting, and if their parents are locking down on Snapchat, then they're going around it and finding another app," said McPherson.

The problem with Snapchat, they don't allow third-party apps to monitor, something the Scottsdale Recovery Center sees a lot of teens using for that reason.

"There's a lack of accountability since the picture will disappear," said Christina Orellana, a therapist at the center.

Luckily, this mom's daughter is now almost six months substance-free, but she said drug abuse could very well have taken her daughter's life.

"I was terrified that was going to happen because she was so trusting of the people who were giving her drugs," her mom said.

So, parents, what can you do to step in before it's too late? Experts say apps like Bark and Go Guardian are great monitoring apps, but that mom said ultimately, it's important to physically check your child's phone and have an open conversation with them so they know you're on their side and involved in their life.

 

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