Fentanyl is one of the deadliest drugs on the street — and now it’s also pretty.
Drug traffickers are making rainbow-colored fentanyl that in pill form resembles candy — think SweeTarts — and in block form looks like sidewalk chalk, according to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration alert.
Federal officials say the candy-colored fentanyl is a deliberate attempt to market the drug to children and young adults.
“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,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a prepared statement.
The drug has been seized in Northern California, Oregon and Arizona.
“If they are trying to put that out to kids, they are trying to kill kids,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Howard Fuchs, who works in the narcotics bureau. “All it takes is one pill and it will likely lead to death.”
Fentanyl pills previously were colored blue and often stamped with M on one side and 30 on the other to appear to be oxycodone, investigators say.
While authorities suspect that dying fentanyl pills pink, purple, yellow and blue is an attempt to make the drug more alluring or less threatening to kids, some experts don’t buy it.
“At this point, what the colors mean is really just speculation. The narrative that it’s meant specifically to appeal to children I do think is unsupported,” said Claire Zagorski, program coordinator at the Pharmacy Addictions Research and Medicine Program at the University of Texas at Austin.
Zagorski said children don’t have much disposable income and generally don’t have jobs.
“It’s simply harder for kids to be reliable and consistent consumers of an expensive illicit substance, so it’s not a great business decision,” she said.
Zagorski also noted that many illicit substances have been “made pretty,” such as MDMA (Ecstasy) and LSD blotters.
“Those were never geared toward children, they were either meant as a signature of a certain seller/drug type, or just meant to look cool,” she said.
In any case, everyone agrees that fentanyl is one of the most deadliest drugs in the country.
The synthetic opioid is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Just 2 milligrams of fentanyl, equal to 10 to 15 grains of salt, can kill.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 107,622 people died of drug overdoses in 2021 in the United States, with 66% of those deaths related to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.
Fentanyl illegally sold in the United States is primarily supplied by two criminal drug networks, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel In Mexico, according to the DEA alert.
Matt Capelouto of Riverside, California, whose 20-year-old daughter, Alexandra, died after unknowingly taking half of a fentanyl pill that she thought was oxycodone, said the rainbow version is “scary.”
“They are specifically intending to appeal to young people,” said Capelouto, who heads the website druginducedhomicide.org. The website encourages prosecutors to file murder charges against dealers in drug deaths.
Said Capelouto, “We all were kids. We all loved candy. It’s an easy target.”
Amy Neville, whose 14-year-old son, Alexander, died after ingesting fentanyl that he thought was oxycontin, said illicit drug makers are simply rebranding their product.
“Everybody knows the blue M-30s are dangerous, so they just changed the color,” said Neville, who runs the Alexander Neville Foundation. “They are prettier and nicer to the eye, so it means more people will fall for the trick.”
She said kids actually believe that drug dealers are their friends, so they might fall for the rainbow ruse.
“It’s terrifying, absolutely terrifying,” Neville said. “If you think that blue is bad, then pink is good, right? Or yellow?”
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