The Drug Enforcement Administration issued a formal warning to the public about the rise of candy-colored “rainbow fentanyl.”
In a public announcement Tuesday, the DEA warned the public to be aware of the “emerging trend” of colorful fentanyl pills becoming available across the nation. The drug is available in brightly colored pills, powder, and blocks that look like sidewalk chalk. Drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among Americans ages 18-45, the DEA noted.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration is advising the public of an alarming emerging trend of colorful fentanyl available across the United States,” the DEA said in its press release. “In August 2022, DEA and our law enforcement partners seized brightly-colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in 18 states. Dubbed ‘rainbow fentanyl’ in the media, this trend appears to be a new method used by drug cartels to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people.”
On August 17, authorities at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona, seized more tan 15,000 brightly-colored fentanyl pills strapped to a person’s leg, as The Daily Wire reported. The day before, authorities seized more than 250,000 candy-colored pills, along with 11 pounds of heroin and 10 pounds of methamphetamine.
DEA officials in Washington, D.C., also seized similar-looking pills over the course of the past 18 months. The Multnomah County, Oregon, Sheriff’s Office found several grams of rainbow fentanyl in the shape of sidewalk chalk recently as well. The DEA noted that fentanyl is primarily trafficked by two criminal networks, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
“Rainbow fentanyl—fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes—is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram in the agency’s press release. “The men and women of the DEA are relentlessly working to stop the trafficking of rainbow fentanyl and defeat the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”
Fentanyl is one of the strongest synthetic opioids in circulation; it is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. A lethal dose of fentanyl is just two milligrams, roughly equal to 10-15 grains of table salt. It is impossible to tell how much fentanyl is concentrated in a particular pill or powder sample. DEA reported that, despite claims that some colors are more potent than others, lab testing indicated no such relationship between color and potency. “Every color, shape, and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous,” the agency said.
Data from the CDC showed that 107,622 Americans died of overdoses in 2021 — the largest number on record.
Synthetic opioids accounted for a large share of the deaths, The New York Times reported. Seventy-one thousand deaths resulted from drug overdoses in 2021. Furthermore, the nonprofit advocacy group Families Against Fentanyl tweeted in December that buried in the CDC data is the fact that fentanyl specifically was the leading killer of Americans in the 18-45 age range.
The DEA instructs the public not to handle fentanyl in any form, but to call 911 immediately if one encounters it.