A new form of fentanyl is making its way onto the streets and law enforcement is worried it’ll be appealing to children.
Earlier this month, border patrol agents along the southern U.S. border found more than 15,000 rainbow fentanyl pills at Arizona’s Nogales Port of Entry. Just the day before, 250,000 fentanyl pills were seized at the same port, some being noticeably multi-colored.
Now, reports of rainbow fentanyl have spread across the country. The colorful pills are fentanyl that is intentionally dyed different colors. Pharmaceutical fentanyl is an opioid prescribed for pain during advanced cancer treatment but is highly addictive and can be stronger than morphine and even heroin. Even more-so, fentanyl made on the street can’t be trusted because its potency can vary and can be hard to measure. For a drug with overdose risks at just two milligrams of consumption, potency matters.
Although reports of rainbow fentanyl have spiked nationwide, Jennifer Lofland, field intelligence manager for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)’s D.C. Division, has been aware of its presence in the D.C. area for at least as year and a half. She pointed out another danger associated with the drug; it can be laced with other substances.
Lofland explained, “A recent batch that appeared to be children’s chewable vitamins were tested by our lab as containing both fentanyl and methamphetamine.”
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon said, “Deputies are particularly concerned about rainbow fentanyl getting in the hands of young adults or children who mistake the drug for something else, such as candy or a toy, or those who may be willing to try the drug due to its playful coloring.”
The statement was made after 800 pills and four grams of powdered rainbow fentanyl were found in a home in Portland.
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office in California also shared concerns about the targeting of children when Zachary Didier, age 17, died of an overdose after purchasing a pill he bought from a stranger on Snapchat in 2020. The District Attorney’s Office stated that a 450% increase in fentanyl deaths took place in the county from 2018 to 2021, half of which were individuals under 25.
But not everyone is convinced that fentanyl is being dyed with the intent to entice children. Claire Zagorski is program coordinator at the Pharmacy Addictions Research and Medicine Program at the University of Texas at Austin. She believes that the products are dyed to distinguish batches, noting that children aren’t a wealthy market and that the drug dealers targeting children is an age-old trope that has spanned decades.
Data from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently shows fentanyl overdose as the number one cause of death in U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 45, a death toll surpassing suicide and car accidents. According to the CDC, around “150 people overdose on fentanyl and other synthetic opioids per day, and fentanyl overdoses accounted for 70% of all drug overdoses in 2020 and 2021.” The CDC recommendations call for fentanyl test strips to be used to test any drug if a person thinks it could contain fentanyl. The agency also suggests that if using drugs that have a chance of being laced with fentanyl, to “use in a safe place, never alone, and ensure that naloxone is available to reverse a potential overdose.”