Carrie Goldberg testifies to House Energy and Commerce Committee on Big Tech Fentanyl Crisis
On Jan 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans, led by Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), hosted a roundtable to discuss Big Tech’s devastating role in the worsening fentanyl crisis.
Carrie Goldberg, founder of C.A. Goldberg, PLLC, testified alongside client Amy Neville (founder of the Alexander Neville Foundation, an organization which seeks to raise awareness about how social media platforms facilitate the counterfeit drug market that is killing children and teens), Laura Marquez-Garrett (from the Social Media Victims Law Center), and Sheriff John Newels of Spokane County, WA.
Background: The Fentanyl Crisis
The past several years have seen a dramatic rise in fentanyl overdose deaths, a number that is expected to continue to rise. In 2020, 91,799 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, over 56,000 of those deaths involved synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl. In 2021, the number of drug overdoses increased to 107,622, and more than 71,000 of those deaths involved synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. (CDC)
The fentanyl crisis has been particularly devastating among young people in the United States. More teens and young adults have died from fentanyl poisoning in the last two years than COVID-19, car accidents, or suicide.
In September of 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a Public Safety Alert to warn Americans of the “alarming increase in the lethality and availability of fake prescription pills containing fentanyl and methamphetamine.” The alert stated that the DEA seized over 9.5 million counterfeit pills containing a lethal dose of fentanyl which were made to look like prescription opioid medications including Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Xanax, and Adderall.
Such fake prescription medications are sold on social platforms, particularly Snapchat, making them easily accessible to young people and minors. In fact, the DEA reported that 85 percent of the deaths resulting from counterfeit prescription medications were linked to situations involving drug traffickers using social media platforms.*
The DEA reported that 85 percent of the deaths resulting from counterfeit prescription medications were linked to situations involving drug traffickers using social media platforms.
C.A. Goldberg, PLLC Snapchat lawsuit
In October 2022, C.A. Goldberg along with the Social Media Victims Law Center, filed a lawsuit against Snap, Inc. on behalf of the families of nine teenagers and young adults, eight of whom died after taking drugs purchased from drug dealers who they connected with through the social media platform Snapchat. The eight young adults who died believed that they purchased non-lethal medications, such as Percocet or Xanax, however, the pills were actually counterfeit medications—the pills were pressed fentanyl made to look like other prescription medications and contained doses lethal enough to kill several people with a single dose. The suit alleges that Snapchat’s design makes the app a particularly ripe environment for drug dealers to connect with minors—features such as disappearing messages, My Eyes Only, and Snap Map, allow and encourage the sales of counterfeit prescription medications to teenagers and young adults.
On Snapchat, drug dealers tap a boundless source of young customers they can easily locate and target on a map. Then, Snapchat’s design of disappearing messages erases evidence of the illicit sales, hiding them from parents and law enforcement.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Panel
On January 25, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans, led by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, assembled a panel of experts regarding the role of Big Tech in the ongoing fentanyl crisis.
McMorris Rodgers opened the panel by stating that social media offers the opportunity to “access valuable information on demand. While an incredible tool, this level of access has created an environment where bad actors can take advantage of vulnerable citizens online. This exploded during the pandemic.” Rodgers contended: “Big Tech companies have failed to be good stewards on their platforms.”
All of the panelists agreed that the issue of fentanyl poisoning is not simply a general social media problem, it is a Snapchat-specific problem. Features unique to Snapchat make the platform an ideal environment for drug dealers to connect with vulnerable teens on an industrial scale. Carrie Goldberg cited disappearing messages, Snap Maps, Quick Add, among other features which appeal to both “minors interested in evading parental oversight, and drug dealers interested in dealing to vulnerable minors without detection.”
Carrie explained: “What you’re going to hear today is that almost all fentanyl poisonings have three things in common. Number one: the purchaser was a teenager. Number two: they had no intention of buying fentanyl but thought that they were purchasing something recreational. And number three: the transaction occurred through the online platform Snapchat.”
Amy Neville told lawmakers, “One sunny day in June of 2020, I was preparing to take my 14-year-old son, Alexander, to the orthodontist. I went to his room to wake him, and there he laid, looking like he was just asleep on his bean bag chair—except he wasn’t sleeping. Alex was dead. His father tried CPR, the paramedics tried naloxone, but it was too late. Alex had taken a pill he believed to be OxyContin, turned out that it was a counterfeit pill made with fentanyl. That fake pill had enough fentanyl in it to kill four people. We only had him 14 years.”
She continued, “On Snapchat, messages are truly ephemeral and are deleted as soon as they are viewed […] anything can all be conveyed through the app with little concern for consequences because the history vanishes after it is read.”
Representative Griffith posed the question of what the committee should be doing to make progress on this issue. Sheriff Newels offered that, “There could be some regulations that compel these companies, these social media platforms, to be in compliance with court orders.”
Laura Marquez-Garrett highlighted that “Snap knows that this is a Snapchat problem. It knows that it could make meaningful changes to its product to help keep our children safe. Instead it has opted for empty promises and children are continuing to die as a result.” On this point, Carrie Goldberg pointed out that reform to Section 230 is necessary to protect vulnerable citizens on social media platforms. Sheriff John Newels pleaded, “We need help to hold people accountable who are poisoning our children.”
On the same day as the hearing, an article was published by Bloomberg about the FBI’s investigation in to Snap and fentanyl. Also on that day, there was an almost 6% drop in the company’s stock.
What you’re going to hear today is that almost all fentanyl poisonings have three things in common. Number one: the purchaser was a teenager. Number two: they had no intention of buying fentanyl but thought that they were purchasing something recreational. And number three: the transaction occurred through the online platform Snapchat. – Carrie Goldberg
C.A. Goldberg and Big Tech accountability
In addition to the Snap suit, C.A. Goldberg, PLLC is currently involved in multiple high-profile litigations against major tech companies, seeking to hold them accountable for foreseeable, predictable, deadly harms facilitated by their dangerous products.
Within the past several years, C.A. Goldberg has filed lawsuits against Amazon, the most powerful corporation in America, for peddling Sodium Nitrate, a suicide chemical being purchased by young people on the website. In our lawsuits, C.A. Goldberg, acting on behalf of families who have lost their children, alleges that Amazon deceptively markets Sodium Nitrate and knowingly facilitates these deaths.
In November 2021, C.A. Goldberg and Vogt & Long filed a product liability lawsuit against the online platform Omegle for sex trafficking a minor. The lawsuit argues that Omegle is defective and negligent in design, pairing children with adults for sexual abuse.
C.A. Goldberg is also involved in proposing legislation to quell the harmful impacts of Big Tech’s unmitigated greed. In May 2021, C.A. Goldberg joined NY Senator Gounardes and Assembly Member Fernandez to announce the 21st Century Anti-Stalking Act, which would make it possible for more survivors of stalking and harassment – particularly that which occurs online – to receive relief from their offender through the courts. The passage of this act would allow survivors of harassment to no longer have to prove a previous “intimate” relationship to obtain a restraining order. C.A. Goldberg, with Senator Gounardes office, also developed the recent New York Child Data Privacy and Protection Act, which would create new obligations that online services need to follow if children use their product, and would require that tech companies commit to privacy and safety for kids.
If your child has been harmed by a social media or internet platform, get in touch to learn about your options.