Families file lawsuit against Snapchat, blame it for drug overdose deaths

Published: May. 25, 2023 at 4:57 PM CDT|Updated: May. 26, 2023 at 12:51 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Cruz Burris was just 15 years old when he died of an accidental overdose last January.

His parents believe a dealer delivered the fatal pill to their home while they slept. Cruz thought it was Percocet, but it was laced with fentanyl.

Cruz’s parents said he found the dealer through Snapchat. They, and the families of 26 other young people who died of fentanyl poisoning, have now filed suit in the Superior Court of California - County of Los Angeles.

They accuse the popular social media app of being a conduit for drug dealers to reach children, and say it is responsible for their children’s deaths.

Cruz took the fatal pill while FaceTiming with his friends.

“He took the pill and then, what happened afterwards, he stopped breathing,” said Cruz’ father Andy Burris. “Then, his heart stopped and then he died.”

His friends sent a text to Cruz’s sister, but she was asleep and didn’t see it. When the family found him the next morning, it was too late.

“I immediately pulled him down and did CPR,” said Andy Burris. “I did CPR on my dead son.”

“He took the pill and then, what happened afterwards, he stopped breathing,” said Cruz’ father...
“He took the pill and then, what happened afterwards, he stopped breathing,” said Cruz’ father Andy Burris. “Then, his heart stopped and then he died.”(KCTV5 Investigates)

The family is hopeful the dealer will be charged as investigators trace social media and phones. However, they also blame Snapchat.

“You know who is online,” said Rhonda Burris. “That is your platform. That is your responsibility. They need to own up to what is happening on their platform.”

The families suing Snapchat argue that the social media giant helps dealers connect with children and teenagers. The suit claims:

The lawsuit points to disappearing messages and claims that feature makes it ideal for criminals. The attorney representing the families said Snapchat either knows or should know that.

“They are not willing to implement any design features that will reduce engagement with their products and advertising revenue they receive,” said attorney Matthew Bergman with the Social Media Victims Law Center. “That is why we have this problem. You don’t need disappearing messages.”

Bergman said evidence shows the way Snapchat works makes it particularly appealing to drug dealers.

We contacted Snapchat for a response. A spokesman sent this statement:

KCTV5′s investigative team checked to see if the accused dealer in Cruz’s case was still on the platform and they couldn’t find him. However, the attorney representing dozens of families in cases against Snapchat said he is aware of one case where a young person died from fentanyl poisoning and the dealer remained on Snapchat. Another young person died a year later.

The Burris family told KCTV5 they never considered Snapchat dangerous until their son died. They joined the lawsuit in hopes of accountability and as a warning for other parents.

“Cruz was incredibly vivid,” said Rhonda Burris. “He was a huge personality. He just was.”

“I cry inside on a daily basis,” said Andy Burris. “A thought or a picture captures me. Tears will come down, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

Help for parents amid the fentanyl crisis

According to the latest federal data from the CDC, more than 200 people die every day from fentanyl/synthetic opioids. About 75,000 people died in 2022. The vast majority are unintentional.

“Talk. They Hear You.” is a campaign created by a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. It’s meant to help parents and other adults be informed and prepared to talk about drugs with their children.

An advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General claimed 95% of teenagers ages 13-17 use social media. More than a third reported they use it “almost constantly.”

Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about what apps or platforms they’re using. If parents need help using the apps the kids are using, they’re advised to ask the children to teach them how they work.

The FDA recently approved an over-the-counter Narcan nasal spray. The medication can reverse the effects of a fentanyl or opioid overdose. It could be months before it can be switched from prescription-only to being widely available, though.

Supporters said another tool that can help reduce accidental overdose deaths are fentanyl testing strips. Earlier this month, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly signed into law a bill that decriminalizes fentanyl test strips. Missouri is still working on removing restrictions on those testing strips.