A brightly colored reinvention of a deadly drug that’s been causing overdoses throughout the U.S. has both parents and the government on high alert.
Last month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency issued a warning about “rainbow fentanyl,” and with Halloween right around the corner, that’s got families spooked that the drug could end up in their kids’ candy baskets. We’ve got the scoop on this powerful opioid and why experts say there’s no need to keep your child from trick-or-treating this year.
What is rainbow fentanyl?
Before we get to the “rainbow” part of this, let’s begin with basic fentanyl: It’s an extremely addictive synthetic opioid that was originally marketed to manage of pain of patients with serious ailments like cancer. But in recent years, it’s fueled a sharp rise in overdose deaths. Fentanyl and other opioids were responsible for about 75 percent of the 107,000 overdose deaths last year, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Rainbow fentanyl” is the name for multi-colored pills, powder, or blocks that contain the dangerous substance. Other than its colorful appearance, the drug doesn’t appear to differ from other illegally sold fentanyl products. But worries about its spread have been severe enough to merit concern from the DEA, which rang the alarm about rainbow fentanyl in an August press release. The agency says the multicolored drug has been found in 18 states.
What experts are saying
DEA Administrator Anne Milgram warned in a statement that the drug “is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” which has led school districts across the country to caution parents about the trend, and some politicians have even seized on it as a talking point.
In an appearance on Fox News, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, “We’re coming into Halloween and every mom in the country’s worried, ‘What if this gets into my kids’ Halloween basket?’”
The hysteria over tainted Halloween candy is one urban legend that just won’t seem to die. One year, it’s a razor blade in an apple that’s put parents on edge, another it’s marijuana-laced gummies. This year, the myth has assumed the form of rainbow fentanyl. But experts say it’s highly unlikely the opioid will wind up mixed in with your kids’ candy.
“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.”
Mariah Francis, a Resource Associate with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, puts it even more bluntly: “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.”
The bigger concern is that someone using rainbow fentanyl may leave the pills unattended, which could lead to a child mistaking it for candy and accidentally ingesting it, Palamar says.
Still, several opioid experts also say they don’t believe rainbow fentanyl was created specifically to target children. It’s more likely dealers chose to make them colorful as a way to differentiate their product from others, Maya Doe Simkins, the co-founder of the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network, tells CNN.
“It has nothing to do with marketing to kids at all, period, whatsoever,” she says.
Want more great content?
Sign up here to jumpstart your mornings with Katie’s dynamic daily newsletter, Wake-Up Call.