Rainbow Fentanyl

Written by Editorial Team |

Need Help For Yourself Or A Loved One?

We can help you get on the road to recovery.

CALL US (888) 672-2120

We’re a drug & alcohol treatment facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our blog provides news, information, and motivation to help individuals start or continue on their recovery journey from drug and alcohol addiction.

CALL US (888) 672-2120

The emergence of a new and colorful form of fentanyl is clear proof the Mexican drug cartels are now deliberately targeting U.S. children, teenagers, and young adults.

SpringBoard Recovery takes a detailed look at this deeply disturbing trend involving yet another new, illicit product – known as “rainbow fentanyl.”


The New Form of Lethal Fentanyl Aimed at U.S. Kids

Already nicknamed Rainbow Fentanyl by the mainstream U.S. media channels, colored pills, powder and small blocks of the lethal synthetic opioid are now being found across many areas of the U.S., including here in Arizona.

Not only have these new forms of fentanyl been seized at the Arizona border, some of the product has made its way onto Tucson and Phoenix.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a public health warning at the end of August, 2022, entitled DEA Warns of Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans.”

The urgent press release from the DEA stated the new, colored forms of fentanyl appeared “to be a new method used by drug cartels to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people.”

Anne Milgram, the DEA’s Administrator, states, “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.”

Milgam vowed, “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.”

The DEA had previously warned of a “nationwide spike” in mass fentanyl overdoses. Out of the 108,000 overdose plus deaths last year, more than 80,000 involved fentanyl.

This rainbow-colored substance is one of the many tools that dealers are using to make the poison appeal to our kids.”

– Placer County District Attorney’s Office, CA

RF Inset Fentanyl

Record Seizure of Fentanyl Pills at Arizona Border

On the last weekend of August, 2022, Arizona Customs & Border Protection officers seized thousands of the new rainbow fentanyl pills – a record number for the seizure of illicit counterfeit pills in a single weekend.

Officers in Nogales, which borders Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, seized a total of 625,000 pills from 5 separate inspections, according to Michael Humphries, the port director for the Nogales port of entry for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Humphries tweeted that officers stationed at the port “seized over 15,000 [colored] fentanyl pills strapped to a person’s legs.”

Among the seized pills, 12,000 were rainbow-colored, something clearly designed to entice children and teenagers. Along with all the fake pills, officers confiscated 4 pounds (lbs) of powdered fentanyl, 34 lbs of methamphetamine, and 5 lbs of marijuana.

The previous month of July, saw a near-200% jump in seizures of fentanyl at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Border Patrol agents, compared to the previous period last year.

However, as with any illicit drug trafficked from Mexico and beyond, the border authorities cannot detect everything, as this Oregon police statement clearly indicates.

Deputies are particularly concerned about rainbow fentanyl getting into the hands of young adults or children, who mistake the drug for something else, such as candy or a toy, or those who may be willing to try the drug due to its playful coloring. The powdered fentanyl found during this investigation resembles the color and consistency of sidewalk chalk.”

– Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon

Rainbow Fentanyl Found in Tucson & Phoenix, AZ

Although Customs and Border Protection officers have had some success finding trafficked rainbow fentanyl, reports from the Phoenix Police Department show the new product is now available in the state’s capital and elsewhere.

Phoenix PD recently seized bags filled with rainbow fentanyl in a recent drug bust, along with $15,000 in cash and 39,000 fentanyl pills in total. Sgt. Brian Bower explained, “It’s a way that some of the younger users can find something a little different. The reason that these are being popular amongst the drug-using community is that they resemble oxycodone pills.”

It’s the same as the traditional ones, just simply a different color,” said Sgt. Brian Bower.

There are now numerous media reports of “rainbow fentanyl” being found nationwide – including in Oregon, Idaho, California, the D.C. region, and even on the islands of Hawai’i.

According to the DEA, the candy-colored drug has been found in 18 states, so far.

While many U.S. law enforcement agencies across the country may be encountering rainbow fentanyl for the very first time, it’s not an entirely new phenomena.

Jennifer Lofland, the Field Intelligence manager for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s D.C. Division, informed the media that brightly-colored pills have been seized around the D.C. region for at least the last 18 months.

Furthermore, Lofland stated, “Some of the multi-colored pills that we’ve been testing in our labs recently, particularly a recent batch that appeared to be children’s chewable vitamins, were tested by our lab as containing both fentanyl and methamphetamine. That is just an added layer of danger.”

Just as alarmingly, a smaller number of the pills tested positive for animal tranquilizers.

Dealers Selling Rainbow Fentanyl Through Instagram, Snapchat & TikTok

Rainbow Fentanyl

Officials all along the West Coast are becoming increasingly alarmed about the seemingly unrestricted sale of rainbow fentanyl on some popular social media apps.

The Placer County District Attorney’s Office in California recently advised, “Reports are showing that many of these sales are happening on app-based programs such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.”

The DA’s office stated that fentanyl can come not just in the form of fake prescription pills, but as off-market vape pens and some marijuana products, adding, “This rainbow-colored substance is one of the many tools that dealers are using to make the poison appeal to our kids.”

Kelly Sloop, executive director of Need 4 Narcan, stated in a recent interview, “With school starting, it’s important to raise awareness so parents and educators can talk to our youth and tell them to never accept a pill from anyone unless the medicine is picked up from a pharmacy.”

Purchasing Counterfeit Pills is Too Easy Online

Just like in the 1980s and ’90s when drug dealers used pagers and burner phones to conduct their business covertly, today’s dealers have also embraced the latest forms of private communication, namely social media and messaging apps with privacy features such as encrypted or disappearing messages.

Dealers and their young buyers will usually spot each other on social media, and then directly message each other. The platforms made for quick and easy transactions during the coronavirus pandemic, when demand for illicit prescription drugs jumped.

Common Emojis Used in Online Fake Prescription Drug Deals

Emojis Used in Online Fake Prescription

Source: DEA

Those looking to buy these drugs were either depressed and anxious youngsters and adults, and those already struggling with addiction cut off from their vital in-person group support.

One Brightly-Colored Fake Pill Can Kill

The new, brightly-colored pills – one of the forms of rainbow fentanyl designed to attract and entice young people – are simply an extension of the fentanyl-laced counterfeit prescription pills that have been flooding into the U.S. in the last year or so across the Mexican border.

A year ago, on September 27, 2021, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) issued its first national Public Safety Alert in 6 years as the lethal counterfeit prescription pills were being found all over the U.S.

The DEA “Counterfeit Pills” Public Safety Alert: September, 2021

Released urgently to the press in September, 2021, the DEA Public Safety Alert – Sharp Increase in Fake Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl and Methamphetamine – was (and still is) a stark warning to all U.S. communities that these deadly, fentanyl-laced counterfeit tablets amount to a dangerous public health crisis that is affecting all demographics across the entire nation.

The counterfeit pills still continue to present exactly the same dangers – a fact that has been verified by an ever-increasing death toll from drug overdose.

Many of the fake tablets are made to resemble legitimate OxyContin, Xanax and Adderall prescription medications, and are clearly aimed at the young and the vulnerable. Every single one could contain a lethal dose of the synthetic opioid fentanyl.

As the DEA public awareness campaign says, One Pill Can Kill.”

The user simply doesn’t know. Taking just a single pill is literally playing Russian roulette with your own life. And it’s exactly the same extremely dangerous situation with these new, brightly-colored pills.

As Arizona Governor Doug Ducey publicly stated on October 6, 2021, “This is our reality. Fentanyl overdoses have replaced car accidents as the leading cause of death for people 19 and younger in Pima County.

Existing Counterfeit OxyContin Tablets (known as “M30”s or “Mexican Oxy”) and New, Brightly-Colored “Rainbow Fentanyl Pills

As you can see, the new rainbow pills (on the right) have the same fake “OxyContin” markings as the existing counterfeit tablets (on the left), known as “M30”s or “Mexican Oxy”

Rainbow Fentanyl Pills

The Santa Clara Opioid Overdose Prevention Project in California (a harm reduction network for the county’s residents) has been sharing this dark, but instructive warning:


U.S. Opioid Prescriptions Down As Opioid Overdoses Rise

The prescribing of opioid painkillers – seen as a common gateway to addiction for new users – continues on a downward trend, while overdoses and deaths related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl, methamphetamine and cocaine are increasing.

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) latest publication – the “2022 Overdose Epidemic Report” – reports:

  • During the past decade, physicians and other healthcare professionals have reduced opioid prescribing in every state, and by nearly 50% nationally
  • The use of state prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) has increased in every state, with more than 1.1 billion queries of PDMPs in 2021.
  • Buprenorphine dispensed for the treatment of opioid use disorder (OUD) has more than doubled in the past 10 years, and
  • The dispensing of naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal medication, has massively increased – by nearly 800% since 2012

In the new report, Bobby Mukkamala, MD Chair, AMA Substance Use and Pain Care Task Force, writes, “While the AMA is proud of the actions physicians have taken, we simultaneously understand that much more needs to be done. The AMA finds the increasing toll of drug-related overdose and death unacceptable, and the new mortality figures for youth and Black and Brown Americans is opening a new, frightening chapter of the epidemic.”

For Parents: Talking to Your Kids About Fentanyl

Communicating with your loved ones, especially your children, about the explicit dangers of fentanyl and other drugs is vital in this day-and-age to keep them safe. Many U.S. government health agency websites have easy-to-access information on how best to address these dangers with your kids.

As well as speaking with your loved ones, it is also imperative that you, as a parent, educate yourself not only about this specific drug, but also other drugs your children could access (especially if they use a mobile phone or are active on social media), what to do in the event of an overdose, seeking professional help, and so on.

For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, has these resources for parents and their teenagers:

Opioids: Facts Parents Need to Know

Opioid Facts for Teens

For example, did you know, according to the CDC, it is estimated that around 80% of opioid overdoses in the U.S. occurred in someone’s home? Or did you know that only 2 mg – a few grains of salt – of fentanyl is enough to prove lethal?

Lethal Doses of Heroin, Carfentanil & Fentanyl

Lethal Doses HCF Heroin, Carfentanil & Fentanyl

Image (right): 2mg Dose of Fentanyl, considered potentially lethal by the DEA

Source: DEA “One Pill Can Kill” Media Toolkit

In a recent New York Times interview for an article entitled “As Fentanyl Overdoses Rise, How to Keep Loved Ones Safe,” a number of experts gave their advice on having a conversation with your children about the dangers of fentanyl and other illicit drugs.

Ongoing Dialogue Better Than a Long Conversation

Caleb Banta-Green, a researcher with the Addictions, Drug and Alcohol Institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine, offered this advice:

Talk to your loved ones. Including your kids.” He emphasized that the best way to prevent fentanyl use is to educate your loved ones, including tweens and teens. He advised having an ongoing dialogue in short spurts rather than one long, formal conversation.

Explain what fentanyl is, warn that it is very dangerous, and that it can be found in pills bought online or from friends – even if they’re sold as something else. If you wish, you can even frame your concern as being for your child’s friends, rather than your own, so as to make it feel less accusatory.

You need to explain that sometimes people take these drugs because they’re sad or depressed, they are having trouble sleeping, or they have too much pain. Let your children know there are far better, far safer ways to treat problems like these.

Make sure your child understands they can and should talk to you if they ever need help or have any questions.

Naloxone Saves Lives

As dramatic and perhaps as unnecessary as this may sound, you should learn how to spot an overdose. When someone overdoses from fentanyl, their breathing slows right down – known as “respiratory depression”) – and their skin often turns a bluish hue.
If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 right away. If you’re concerned that a loved one could possibly be exposed to fentanyl, you may want to buy naloxone, a medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is often available at local pharmacies without a prescription.


Naloxone Saves Lives

As dramatic and perhaps as unnecessary as this may sound, you should learn how to spot an overdose. When someone overdoses from fentanyl, their breathing slows right down – known as “respiratory depression”) – and their skin often turns a bluish hue.

If you think someone is overdosing, call 911 right away. If you’re concerned that a loved one could possibly be exposed to fentanyl, you may want to buy naloxone, a medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It is often available at local pharmacies without a prescription.


External Sources:

  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). DEA Warns of Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans. August, 2022. Available at DEA.gov.
  2. Placer County District Attorney’s Office. Placer County District Attorney’s Office Reports Rainbow-Colored Fentanyl. August, 2022. Available at Placer.CA.gov.
  3. Need 4 Narcan. Homepage. 2022. Available at Need4Narcan.org.
  4. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Emoji Drug Code: Decoded. 2021. Available at DEA.gov.
  5. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Sharp Increase in Fake Prescription Pills Containing Fentanyl and Methamphetamine. September, 2021. Available at DEA.gov.
  6. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One Pill Can Kill Social Media Campaign. September, 2021. Available at DEA.gov.
  7. County of Santa Clara: Behavioral Health Services. Santa Clara Opioid Overdose Prevention Project: #Expect Fentanyl. 2022. Available at BHSD.SCCgov.org.
  8. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Buprenorphine. July, 2022. Available at SAMHSA.gov.
  9. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Naloxone. April, 2022. Available at SAMHSA.gov.
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Parents & Educators. 2022. Available at NIDA.gov.
  11. U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). Fentanyl. June, 2022. Available at CDC.gov.
  12. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). One Pill Can Kill Media Toolkit. 2021. Available at DEA.gov.
  13. New York Times. As Fentanyl Overdoses Rise, How to Keep Loved Ones Safe. May, 2022. Available at NYTimes.com.

Author: Editorial Team

SpringBoard Recovery was born from the passion and personal experience of its founders. We understand the real-world challenges of early recovery and are here to help and we are passionate about helping our clients lead balanced, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

We Accept Most Insurance Plans

We're Here to Help. Call Now