Recognize emojis used in drug deals, parents warned

COLUMBUS — Emojis are being used by youth on social media and other electronic communications to traffic illegal drugs, an Ohio public safety bulletin warns parents.

The warning was issued last week by the Ohio Narcotics Intelligence Center, a specialized criminal intelligence unit that assists local law enforcement in conducting intelligence-driven drug trafficking investigations. Gov. Mike Dewine created the unit in July 2019.

Emojis used in drug communications commonly refer to the physical, psychological or physiological characteristics of the drugs, according to a news release from ONIC. The presence of these emojis in communications can be one indication of possible drug activity.

Emojis can refer to specific types of drugs such as a peeled banana for oxycodone / Percocet, a stepladder for alprazolam / Xanax, a snail for fentanyl or a palm tree for marijuana.

However, the leader of the ONIC reminds parents and guardians that emojis often are used in other, legal ways by youth.

“The use of emojis in this manner is a nationwide trend, and our analysts are seeing it here in Ohio as they analyze electronic devices seized in ongoing drug investigations,” said Cynthia Peterman, ONIC executive director.

“Although use of these emojis is most often harmless, it’s important that parents keep this alert in mind, especially if their child is showing other signs of withdrawal or drug abuse.”

Emojis can be used in generic ways to denote a drug dealer with an electrical outlet plug or the price of a drug by using a concert ticket stub. Other general references include using a flame, gasoline pump or goat to depict the high potency of a drug and an astronaut, rocket or face with an exploding brain to describe the euphoria of drug use.

ONIC’s criminal intelligence analysts and computer forensic specialists provide investigative, analytical and digital forensic support to local law enforcement agencies and drug task forces, including TAG in Trumbull County and the Mahoning Valley Drug Task Force.


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