- More “rainbow fentanyl” cases are popping up all over the country, including in Arizona, Oregon, California and the DC area.
- Law enforcement officials suggest that colored pills and powdered forms of the opioid could be marketed to children and young people.
- Other experts say colors could be added to distinguish the products, noting that children are also unlikely to have enough money to buy “rainbow fentanyl”.
Reports of “rainbow fentanyl” are mounting nationwide, and law enforcement suggests the colorful, candy-like opioid may be targeting young people. Other experts say colors are usually added to distinguish products.
In the past week, seizures of colored fentanyl have made headlines in Arizona, Oregon, California and Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, for example, Border Patrol agents said they found more than 15,000 rainbow fentanyl pills at the port of entry in Nogales, Arizona – continued 250,000 fentanyl pills which were seized at the same port on Tuesday, some of which were multicolored.
During a search warrant by Oregon law enforcement earlier this week, 800 fentanyl pills and four grams of multi-colored powdered fentanyl were also found at a Portland residence, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
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“MPs are particularly concerned that rainbow fentanyl is falling into the hands of young adults or children, who mistake the drug for something else, such as candy or a toy, or those who might be disposed to try the drug because of its playful coloration,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. “The powdered fentanyl found during this investigation resembles the color and consistency of sidewalk chalk.”
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Although many encounter rainbow fentanyl for the first time, it is nothing new. Jennifer Lofland, field intelligence officer for the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s DC division, told Fox 5 News that pills have been seized in the DC area, for example, for at least 18 months.
What is Rainbow Fentanyl?
Rainbow fentanyl is fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, that has been dyed different colors.
The pharmaceutical fentanyl is an opioid prescribed for severe pain, including advanced cancer treatment, the CDC notes. But with these non-medical grade (or “illegally manufactured”) versions of fentanyl, potency levels are difficult to determine and can vary widely.
However, powdered fentanyl is generally more potent than other forms, the Multnomah County Health Department noted after the county sheriff’s office reported a seizure this week of rainbow fentanyl in Portland.
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“To be clear, all fentanyl purchased on the street is deadly, regardless of color, shape, size or form,” Placer County District Attorney Morgan Gire said in a statement released Wednesday in light of reports of rainbow fentanyl in California. “Yet we find that this rainbow-colored substance is one of many tools marketers are using to make the poison appealing to our children.”
Much remains unknown about rainbow fentanyl. Colored powders and pills can also be combined with other medications.
“Some of the multicolored pills we recently tested in our labs, particularly a recent batch that appeared to be children’s chewable vitamins, were tested by our lab to contain both fentanyl and methamphetamine,” said Lofland told Fox 5, adding that the DEA’s DC division has also found animal tranquilizers in some pills. “And so that’s just an added layer of danger.”
While these law enforcement agencies suggest children will be targeted with rainbow fentanyl, others say colors are likely added to distinguish the products. Children are also unlikely to have enough money to buy these products, some experts note.
“There is not a lot of money to target children and this idea of drug sellers coming for our children is a very old idea that has been washed and repeated over the decades,” said Claire Zagorski, coordinator of the Pharmacy Addictions Research and Medicine Program. at the University of Texas at Austin, Vice News said.
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Fentanyl, usually found in liquid or powder form, and drugs containing fentanyl are extremely potent, as the addictive opioid is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and 50 times more potent than heroin, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Even the smallest of doses can be fatal.
“It only takes 2 milligrams of fentanyl – about the weight of a few grains of salt – to cause a fatal overdose,” Multnomah County health officials have warned.
The most common drugs implicated in overdose deaths today are fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to the CDC, with around 150 deaths per day.
The increase in fentanyl overdose deaths in recent years has exacerbated the ongoing opioid epidemic.
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If you are unsure whether or not a medication contains fentanyl, the CDC strongly recommends using fentanyl test strips. In the event of an overdose, health experts also stress the importance of using naloxone (or “Narcan”), a drug used to quickly reverse an opioid overdose, if available. If you or someone you know uses fentanyl, other opioids, or drugs that could be mixed, experts recommend carrying multiple doses of naloxone with you.
“Anyone planning to use fentanyl powder should follow harm reduction principles of going slow, not using when you’re alone, and making sure someone has Narcan,” Kelsi said. Junge, Multnomah County Health’s harm reduction supervisor, in a statement.