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The 'Rainbow Fentanyl' Halloween Scare: Is it Real?

Throughout the nation, reports of "rainbow fentanyl" are growing, and law enforcement believes the candy-like, colorful opioid is targeting young people -- especially as we approach Halloween. According to other experts, colors are likely added to differentiate products, not to increase their visibility.

There have been headlines about colored fentanyl seizures in Arizona, Oregon, California, and Washington, D.C. On Wednesday. Border patrol agents said they found more than 15,000 rainbow fentanyl pills at Arizona's Nogales Port of Entry - the same port where 250,000 fentanyl pills were discovered recently, some of which were multicolored.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office reported that 800 fentanyl pills and four grams of multicolored, powdered fentanyl were found in a Portland residence during a search warrant in August, 20222.

The question is, how scary should the recent warning from the Drug Enforcement Administration be for parents and children? “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,” says DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

Is this an attempt to get kids addicted to fentanyl? If so, parents have a right to be scared.

However, what is the real evidence behind the “rainbow fentanyl” connection? Before you get spooked, let's address what's really happening with "rainbow fentanyl."

What is "Rainbow Fentanyl?"

Let's start with the basics: Fentanyl is an extremely addictive synthetic opioid originally marketed to treat cancer patients' pain. It has, however, led to a sharp rise in overdose deaths over the past few years. Last year, fentanyl and other opioids caused about 75 percent of the 107,000 overdose deaths reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Rainbow fentanyl” is the name given to multicolored pills, powders, and blocks containing the dangerous drug.

This fentanyl product does not appear to differ from other illegally sold fentanyl products except for its colorful appearance. Rainbow fentanyl has been the subject of concerns so severe that the DEA issued an alert about it in August. There have been 18 states reported to have found the multicolored drug.

Should Parents Be Concerned About “Rainbow Fentanyl”?

In addition to the warning from DEA Administrator, Anne Milgram, politicians and political commentators have raised even more concerns.

Senator Chuck Schumer, for instance, spoke candidly about Halloween and the "rainbow fentanyl" epidemic at a recent press conference, saying it “is really worrisome and really dangerous.” According to him, “These drug traffickers are doubling down on their bet to hook young people.” He then proceeded to declare that he’ll push for $290 million to be allocated in the federal budget “to fight the scourge of fentanyl and rainbow fentanyl.”

Ronna McDaniel, Chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said on Fox News, “We’re coming into Halloween and every mom in the country’s worried, ‘What if this gets into my kids’ Halloween basket?’”

On her Fox News show "The Five," Jeanine Pirro said: “I’m happy he’s talking about it. But shouldn’t he be sounding the alarm with the White House? Shouldn’t the White House be talking about the fact that this is happening, or would it be too dangerous?”

DEA warnings haven't just been echoed by politicians and political commentators. Hartford HealthCare placed a warning post on its website that said, “First it was razorblades in apples then marijuana-laced gummies, but this year, parents have a new Halloween worry - rainbow fentanyl.”

According to experts, your kids' candy is highly unlikely to contain opioids.

“The people who command coverage from reporters are getting behind this, and it strikes me as nuts,” said Joel Best, a professor sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, and the foremost leading researcher on tainted candy.

According to Best, no death has occurred as a result of tampered candy obtained during trick-or-treating since 1958. A few suspected cases have been reported in the media, but none have been confirmed to have resulted in death.

According to Best, it is just another generational urban legend that won't go away.

“The thing about being against poisoning Halloween candy is that there is no one who is for it, so it’s a great campaign commercial,” Best added.

Mariah Francis, a Resource Associate with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, states it more clearly: “The idea that because [the pills] are colorful means that [cartels] must be trying to force fentanyl or ply children or their Halloween candy is markedly ridiculous.”

“We need to keep in mind that these pills cost money, so people aren’t going to be throwing them on the ground for kids to find,” Joseph Palamar, an associate professor at NYU Langone Health who’s studying illicit fentanyl use, tells CNN. “I don’t think people will be giving these pills out as Halloween candy.”

In Palamar's opinion, the bigger concern is that someone using “rainbow fentanyl” may leave the pills unattended, making it possible for a child to mistake them for candy and ingest them.

Overall, many opioid experts also don't believe rainbow fentanyl was intended specifically for children. Maya Doe Simkins, a co-founder of the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network, tells CNN that dealers likely chose to make them colorful to differentiate their products.

“It has nothing to do with marketing to kids at all, period, whatsoever,” she says.

Image Credit: DEA

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