Unsubstantiated claim of fentanyl-rose trafficking scheme spreads online

CLAIM: It has been confirmed that roses laced with fentanyl are being used as a sex trafficking ploy in Clinton, Mississippi.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. While one person did make that claim online and in a call to the local police department, Clinton’s city attorney said the department was not able to substantiate the account. That individual declined to provide additional corroborating information to The Associated Press. The organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline said it was not aware of any reports to the hotline that followed such a pattern.

THE FACTS: A widely disseminated video on social media — including on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok — is baselessly purporting that roses laced with fentanyl are being used to kidnap strangers for sex trafficking.

“Ladies Beware: Roses Laced with Fentanyl Handed Out in Attempt for Sex Trafficking,” a headline on an Instagram video reads.

The video shows a rose that appears to have a white powdery substance on it. A woman claims in it that she received it after giving money to two young girls in Clinton, Mississippi.

“Recently, I was approached by two young girls in Clinton asking for help. After giving them money, they gave me a rose in return. I insisted that I didn’t want the rose and she still slid it through my window,” the woman says. “Later, she came back to the car to check on me. Ironically, something told me to look at the rose. It was filled with a powdery substance. It has been confirmed that in similar situations in this area, it is a possible fentanyl in the rose. They have been putting drugs in the flower, waiting for someone to sniff them — sniff the substance, and once they pass out, they take them for sex trafficking.”

In an Instagram message to the AP, the woman who first posted the claim to social media in early August said she did report the incident to Clinton police. But in response to repeated questions seeking more information, including a date or where it occurred, she said only that the matter was “private” and that her motive in posting the video was to raise awareness.

The Clinton Police Department received that call but no official police report was filed, said William Purdie, city attorney for Clinton.

“We’ve seen the report on social media,” Purdie said in an interview. “While we have not had an official police report filed, the woman who’s making the claim on social media has called the police station about the matter and the police station has not been able to substantiate the claims at this time — nor have we heard any claims of the sort by anyone else.”

It’s true that inhaling powdered fentanyl can get someone high and lead to unconsciousness, but the scenario described in the video is “impractical” and “highly, highly unlikely,” said Dr. Lewis Nelson, a professor of pharmacology, physiology and neuroscience at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

“The dosing of it would be very tricky,” said Nelson, who has studied unfounded reports of people becoming intoxicated by fentanyl through passive exposure. “You’d have to give somebody the dose that would be the right amount to knock them out and not kill them.”

“It doesn’t make practical sense that it could be done and certainly that it could be done over and over again without killing people,” he added. Small amounts of fentanyl can indeed be lethal.

The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, said in a statement that it was not aware of trafficking situations reported to the hotline that involve such a pattern.

“Polaris always encourages the public to educate themselves and others on the issues of sex and labor trafficking as well as the resources available to assist survivors of trafficking,” the organization said. “However, we strongly caution against spreading stories with potentially misleading information about human trafficking recruitment tactics as they may ultimately cause more harm than good.”

Polaris noted that similar stories routinely surface on social media and said that they may be borne out of misconceptions surrounding human trafficking. The organization’s website notes that traffickers often know their victims — rather than targeting strangers — and use psychological means, such as tricking or defrauding, to coerce them into sex or labor.

The AP has previously fact-checked similar claims, including that car seats were being left in public places as a means of kidnapping women for human trafficking.


This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.