‘Rainbow Fentanyl’ Used to Target Young Americans, DEA Warns

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 30, 2022Health

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Tuesday issued a warning about an “alarming emerging trend of colorful fentanyl available across the United States.”

The agency said the 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.”

“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 in a statement.

“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.”

The DEA said that its agents and law enforcement partners in August seized such “rainbow fentanyl” and other fentanyl pills in as many as 18 states. The fentanyl with colors are being seized in multiple forms, from pills to powder, to “blocks that resembles sidewalk chalk.”

“Despite claims that certain colors may be more potent than others, there is no indication through DEA’s laboratory testing that this is the case. Every color, shape, and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous,” the agency advised.

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid up to 50 times more potent than heroin, and up to 100 times stronger than morphine. Manufacturers of illegal drugs add fentanyl to heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines, and other drugs to make the drugs more powerful and cheaper to produce.

Just two milligrams of the synthetic opioid—equivalent to 10–15 grains of table salt—is considered a lethal dose. Laboratory testing is the only way to know how much fentanyl is concentrated in a pill or powder.

China is “the primary source of fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances trafficked through international mail and express consignment operations, as well as the main source for all fentanyl-related substances trafficked into the United States,” the DEA said in its 2020 National Drug Threat Assessment report (pdf).

Two criminal drug networks, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), supply most of the fentanyl in the United States.

Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 100,000 died of drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in March, and synthetic opioids including fentanyl were involved in more than two-thirds of those deaths.

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