What is Rainbow Fentanyl? Colored pills generate new warnings about America’s deadliest drug


A new wave of concern has spread across the United States over pills, powders and multicolored blocks of “rainbow fentanyl” – which look like candy or sidewalk chalk – being sold and used in several states and potentially posing a threat to young people.

But parents of young children shouldn’t panic too much, and the emergence of this new product is only a small part of today’s larger opioid crisis.

Rainbow fentanyl comes in bright colors and can be used as pills or powder containing illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, which makes them extremely addictive and potentially fatal if someone overdoses. while trying to take drugs.

This multicolored fentanyl may appeal to young people or trick them into thinking it’s safe, but experts say illicit fentanyl has long been hiding in what appear to be other products, and fentanyl is fentanyl – everything is dangerous, rainbow or not.

“Colored fentanyl pills have been around for a few years. Typically, these were blue pills labeled “M30” to counterfeit oxycodone, which is a much weaker opioid,” said Joseph Palamar, associate professor in the Department of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, who studied illicit fentanyl trends. in an email to CNN.

“I think the big difference that people are concerned about is accidental ingestion. People are concerned that their children will take one of these pills thinking it’s another drug or even thinking it’s it’s a kind of candy,” Palamar said. “I don’t think the color of the pills significantly increases the danger for people who aren’t using fentanyl, but it’s always possible that someone who uses fentanyl leaves his pills within the reach of children.”

He added: ‘We have to keep in mind that these pills cost money, so people aren’t going to throw them on the floor for kids to find. I don’t think people will give these pills away as Halloween candy.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning in August informing the public of this “alarming emerging trend” of “colored fentanyl available in the United States”.

At the time, the agency said it and its law enforcement partners seized the brightly colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in 18 states. Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing the country, according to the DEA.

But the DEA did not say in its announcement whether rainbow fentanyl has led to overdoses or deaths among young people.

“Rainbow fentanyl – fentanyl pills and powder available in a variety of bright colors, shapes and sizes – is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to create addiction in children and young adults. “DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in the August announcement.

Since then, some colleges and universities have been warning students about the presence and dangers of rainbow fentanyl, and the California Department of Public Health has alerted administrators at K-12 schools across the state to the makes rainbow fentanyl “a new trend”..

At Colorado Children’s Hospital in Aurora, doctors have seen increased exposure to fentanyl in young children and adolescents, Dr. Sam Wang, the hospital’s pediatric toxicologist, told CNN on Friday. Although he and his colleagues are aware of the warnings about rainbow fentanyl, he has not heard from any patient or relative about it.

After all, the bottom line, he said, is that fentanyl is fentanyl, whether it comes as rainbow-colored pills or just a white powder.

“It just came out in a different form to be potentially more attractive, more ‘fun’ to use, because it looks potentially fun to take,” said Wang, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University’s medical campus. from Colorado to Anschutz.

And when young people use illicit drugs, they sometimes don’t know what’s really in them or how dangerous these substances can be.

Regarding rainbow fentanyl, “fentanyl itself will pose the same problem as counterfeit pharmaceutical fentanyl. We don’t know how much it contains – it may vary. We don’t know the type of fentanyl,” Wang said. “And so those concerns still carry over to this product. It’s just now that it seems to pose a potential danger to young children and then too, it’s going to be more appealing for people to use and have consequences accordingly.

The United States has faced an epidemic of opioid overdoses — and waves of opioid overdose deaths — for decades, starting with a rise in prescription opioid overdose deaths in the early 2000s. , followed by an increase in heroin overdose deaths beginning in 2010 and, more recently, an increase in synthetic opioid overdose deaths that began in 2013, fueled by the powerful fentanyl.

The pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid intended to help patients, such as those with cancer, manage severe pain. It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and usually prescribed as skin patches or lozenges. But the most recent cases of fentanyl-related injuries, overdoses and deaths in the United States are linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The latest data suggests annual drug overdose deaths have jumped 44% from before the Covid-19 pandemic. About 76,000 deaths were reported in the 12 months ending March 2020. The latest CDC interim data shows that more than 109,000 people in the United States died of drug overdoses during the 12 month period ending March 2022.

Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were implicated in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022. Deaths involving synthetic opioids have increased by 80% over the past two years , according to CDC data.

Rainbow fentanyl has captured attention due to the bright colors of the products, but the illicit fentanyl the products contain represents a continuation of the ongoing opioid epidemic. The only difference between Rainbow Fentanyl and fentanyl products of the past seems to be the coloring.

“The reason it is colored is simply to differentiate the products. If we had a regulated market, they would be differentiated in different ways – we don’t. It has nothing to do with marketing to children, period, whatsoever,” said Maya Doe Simkins, co-founder of the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network and co-director of Remedy Alliance, a collection of harm reduction groups that are working to make naloxone more accessible.

Simkins compared the different colors of fentanyl rainbow to how people used the food coloring in heroin in the past, and she said the colors are sometimes used to differentiate between batches.

“It’s just a differentiation between your product or my product or this batch and the next batch,” she said.

Illegal fentanyl has been hiding in drugs for a long time and its presence appears to be on the increase.

A study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in May, found that the number of powders and pills containing fentanyl seized by law enforcement in the United States increased between 2018 and 2021.

The weight of fentanyl powder seizures increased from 298.2 kilograms in 2018 to 2,416 kilograms in 2021, and the number of pills seized increased from 42,202 in 2018 to 2,089,186 in 2021, according to the study, including Palamar was the main author.

“We found that not only have fentanyl seizures increased, but the proportion of pills seized to overall fentanyl seizures has increased. The proportion of pill seizures increased from 14% at the start of 2018 to 29% at the end of 2021,” Palamar wrote in his email to CNN.

“We have no information on what these seized pills were supposed to be, but we believe many were disguised as oxycodone or even Xanax,” he wrote. “Seizures of these counterfeit pills have been increasing at a rapid rate, suggesting increasing availability, and availability will continue to increase.”

With this increase, counterfeit pills have been harder to identify, but Palamar said people can use test strips to detect traces of illicit fentanyl if they have concerns.

“People can buy fentanyl test strips for as little as a dollar. Most of these strips are for urine testing, but they can detect the presence of fentanyl if used correctly,” Palamar wrote.

“I strongly recommend anyone considering using an illegally purchased pill or illegal powder like cocaine to test the drug before using it,” he added. “There are also hundreds of new fentanyl analogues and other opioids that can be very dangerous and that test strips cannot detect. I’m afraid test strips give some people a false sense of security, but that’s something.

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