Social media apps are increasingly likely to be used by young people to buy illegal drugs, research suggests.

The study, from Royal Holloway, University of London, says drug users valued the convenience and speed of buying drugs via apps like Snapchat.

It warns that buyers are at risk in terms of personal safety and drug quality and that many have a “false security” of escaping law enforcement.

It says educating young people about the risks is “crucial and urgent”.

The study warns many are in denial about the risks: “On the whole, app users had well-rehearsed narratives that justified their continued confidence in purchasing substances from unknown suppliers on apps.”

How did the researchers carry out their study?

The study – #Drugsforsale: An exploration of the use of social media and encrypted messaging apps to supply and access drugs – is based on an online survey of 358 users, 288 of whom had used apps to buy drugs and 70 who had thought about it.

Most of these users were in the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US and the average age of the participants was 18.

The researchers also conducted face-to-face interviews with 20 young people and in-depth interviews with a further 27.

It found that while “social supply” of drugs through friends is still typically preferred, apps are “fast becoming a viable option for accessing drugs”.

Of the 358 online participants, 76% said they regularly used Snapchat, while 21% favoured Instagram.

Why do people use apps to source drugs?

The study found that the convenience of organising a transaction was the most commonly reported advantage, with 79% giving this as a reason for using apps.

Alex, 27, told the researchers it felt “safe, easier and twice as quick as trying to nail down someone on the end of a line”.

The drugs turned up with the guy and I paid him […] I never looked back.”

Zach, 22, said: “It just seemed like a simple, modern way to buy things. I’d gotten pretty sick of the dark net because I never really got it, so had to always have a friend on hand to help me out.

“Plenty of dealers in this area exist solely on Snapchat, so without it, I would’ve kept relying on people approaching me in the street or randomly bumping into people in clubs.”

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