Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and up to 100 times stronger than morphine, is a “major contributor” to overdoses in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Most of these overdoses are linked to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, which can be mixed with other drugs and made into pills that resemble prescription opioids. Illicitly manufactured fentanyl is “often added to other drugs because of its extreme potency, which makes drugs cheaper, more powerful, more addictive, and more dangerous,” the CDC says.
“It’s apparently a method being used by drug dealers to sell the deadly fentanyl by making it look like candy to children and young people,” a popular Twitter account wrote on Sept. 1.
Is “rainbow” fentanyl circulating in the United States?
Yes, “rainbow” fentanyl is circulating in the United States.
WHAT WE FOUND
Law enforcement agencies in the U.S. are reporting that rainbow-colored fentanyl and drugs containing fentanyl, such as pills, powder and blocks that look like sidewalk chalk, have been found throughout the nation.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned the public in late August about an “alarming emerging trend of colorful fentanyl available across the United States.” There’s no indication that certain colors are more potent than others, according to the agency.
“Every color, shape, and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous,” the DEA said.
Although some law enforcement agencies said it’s unknown if this type of fentanyl is “targeted” at young people, DEA staff say it’s true.
“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,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said.
DEA agents have seized the brightly-colored fentanyl, dubbed “rainbow” fentanyl, in 21 states. A spokesperson for the agency says the below list “only reflects DEA seizures and it’s possible that state and local law enforcement have encountered it in other states.”
State government and law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including those in California, Oregon, and Idaho, have also reported on “rainbow” fentanyl circulating in their area.
The Placer County District Attorney’s Office’s major narcotics unit in California said in August that rainbow-colored batches of fentanyl were making their way into the county, which saw a 450% increase in fentanyl deaths between 2018 and 2021.
“Reports are showing that many of these sales are happening on app-based programs such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok,” the district attorney’s office wrote in a press release.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Oregon said on Aug. 16 that deputies found four grams of multi-colored powdered fentanyl resembling sidewalk chalk while executing a search warrant.
“Deputies are particularly concerned about rainbow fentanyl getting into 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 sheriff’s office said.
In September, authorities in Idaho and Georgia also issued warnings about the drug circulating in some areas of the states.
Idaho State Police said they are seeing a “surge” in “new types of fentanyl called ‘skittles’ or ‘rainbow’” in the northern part of the state. Kootenai County, Idaho, has already seen double the number of fentanyl overdoses from 2021, though police did not tie the uptick to “rainbow” fentanyl.
In Cobb County, Georgia, an organized crime task force has seen a drug known as “purple heroin” or “rainbow” fentanyl on the streets in recent months, according to a Facebook post from the area sheriff’s office.
Anyone who finds a colored pill or powdered substance should call 911 immediately, authorities say.