Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50-100 times stronger than morphine. Pharmaceutical fentanyl was developed for pain management treatment of cancer patients, applied in a patch on the skin. Because of its powerful opioid properties, fentanyl is also diverted for abuse. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency, or is disguised as highly potent heroin. Clandestinely-produced fentanyl is primarily manufactured in Mexico. Fentanyl is often mixed in with other drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine, with buyers often unaware that they are ingesting it – which often results in overdose deaths. Fentanyl can be absorbed into the body via inhalation, oral exposure or ingestion, or skin contact.
The newest version of illicit fentanyl is called “rainbow fentanyl.” On August 23, 2022, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers in Arizona reported they found thousands of rainbow-colored fentanyl pills smugglers tried to sneak into the United States from Mexico during the past weekend. Amid the seized pills, 12,000 were rainbow-colored, something that could entice children, while another four pounds were in powder form. CBP agents also found 34 pounds of methamphetamine and five pounds of marijuana. On September 3, 2022, CBP seized more than 200,000 fentanyl pills hidden in a secret compartment of a vehicle at Port of Nogales, Arizona. Approximately 47,000 of those pills were rainbow-colored pills, 186,000 were blue fentanyl pills, and 6.5 pounds of methamphetamine was also found in the same vehicle.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), “rainbow fentanyl” is being sold in multiple forms, including as pills, powder, and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk. While some reports have claimed that different colors indicate differing levels of potency, laboratory testing has not found a correlation. By making it look like candy, “rainbow fentanyl” is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults.
Seizures and reports of “rainbow fentanyl” includes, but is not only limited to, Nogales, Arizona. Since August 2022, DEA and various law enforcement agencies have seized brightly colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in at least 18 states:
- April 23, 2022, Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, CA, seized 92.5 pounds of illicit fentanyl including “rainbow fentanyl” (see Figure 3).
- August 17, 2022, Authorities in Portland, OR, discovered drugs including 800 pills of fentanyl and four grams of “rainbow fentanyl” resembling sidewalk chalk.
- August 24, 2022, Morgantown, WV, reported a large batch of “rainbow fentanyl” recovered. The pills, seized the prior week by Task Force officers, were multi colored and stamped with M/30 like a conventional oxycodone pill.
- September 8, 2022, Hawaii High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) reported rainbow fentanyl pills were seized on the Big Island the previous week.
- DEA Washington D.C. division says “rainbow fentanyl” pills were seized in and around D.C. for the last 18 months. A recent batch, that appeared to be children’s chewable vitamins, were lab tested and found to contain both fentanyl and methamphetamine.
If you see anything that resembles blue pills, brightly colored pills or powder, sidewalk chalk, or children’s vitamins, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Be especially cautious if the “sidewalk chalk” or “children’s vitamins” were not purchased by you or do not belong to your family. If you encounter any of these substances, immediately report it to your installation Provost Marshal’s Office (PMO/Military Police Station). Due to the significant risks associated with fentanyl, it is best to exercise caution if you have any doubt or concerns about a product.