Recently, the United States Drug Enforcement Agency put out a statement warning the public of a new threat in the ongoing American opioid crisis: Rainbow Fentanyl. According to the statement, and subsequent interviews with DEA officials, drug cartels are targeting teens and young adults with brightly colored fentanyl (dubbed “rainbow fentanyl”) that often resembles candy or street chalk. According to an interview NBC Nightly News had with DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, these drug cartels and traffickers are even giving nicknames to the illicit drug products to further entire teens and young adults, saying they are often referred to as “Sweet Tarts” and “Skittles.”

Initially, the DEA issues a nationwide warning regarding rainbow fentanyl last month. This latest statement ups the ante and signals to the public a real threat to parents to be concerned for their teenagers and young adults who may be using such drugs. The concern, based on the information, is certainly warranted, as the nationwide opioid crisis continues throughout America and the country’s overdose numbers (both fatal overdoses and non-fatal overdoses) continue to rise.

However, certain experts and harm reduction advocates refute this latest warning by the Drug Enforcement Agency. According to some, the uproar regarding rainbow fentanyl is less a warning to parents and the American public, but more a political push. It is the opinion of these individuals that, with the rapidly approaching midterm elections and an ongoing conversation regarding the border between America and Mexico, there are some Republican politicians looking to focus voters’ attention on the dangers and potential harm of drugs crossing over the border, to take voters attention away from other political issues. The assumption is that by increasing fear in parents and the overall public, voters will ultimately cast their ballots towards closing the border, a typical GOP political stance, and worry less about a woman’s right to choose, which has become a left rallying cry and created what seems like a position that has strengthened Democratic positions before midterms.

So, what is true? What is false? Is there a real danger regarding rainbow fentanyl? Or is this just political posturing using fear? It seems the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid 50x to 100x more powerful or potent than oxycodone or heroin. It is cheap to acquire or produce in large quantities. And it is certainly to blame for the rising rates of drug overdoses, both fatal and non-fatal. This in large part is due to individuals ingesting fentanyl without even knowing they are using it. Many illicit drugs sold on the street are counterfeit prescription pills. For example, drugs such as Xanax or Adderall. However, when purchases on the street, many people buying the pills believe they are actually prescription pills, when in actuality they are fake pills or counterfeit pills, pressed to made to look like the real thing, but more often than not containing high doses of fentanyl. A person will take the pill thinking it is something that they have used or taken before, and instead ingest a potentially lethal dose of fentanyl.

It is also true that rainbow fentanyl exists. It is out on the street and people are using it. Some experts say that brightly colored illicit substances have been around for years in different forms. Sometimes they are used to market a drug dealers or drug cartel’s product, but not for children but rather so that drug users can identify that specific substances that they are looking to use. Other times, colored pills are produced by drug dealers or drug cartels to mimic actual prescription pills, because the real pills are colored from the pharmaceutical company or manufacturer that produces them.

So, the truth is that rainbow fentanyl exists, it is out on the street, but there is a lot of conjecture as to whether this is done purposefully to target children. While the DEA official warning about rainbow fentanyl should be a cause for concern, the bigger fear or concern is the widespread use of fentanyl on the street, regardless of what it looks like, and how many people are using fentanyl unknowingly. This type of fentanyl poisoning is at the heart of the overdose epidemic America is now facing. Over the last 5 years, some individuals addicted to opioids are actually looking to use fentanyl on its own, rather than using prescription pills or heroin. The concern is real, but the fear over children, teens or young adults being targeted may be unwarranted.

What a parent should do is understand the situation their child is in. Do they have a substance use disorder or drug addiction? Are they using drugs from the street? Is the family aware of harm reduction strategies, such as fentanyl test strips or making sure Narcan is available? And are they doing everything they can to support their child into finding and receiving help, through all available addiction treatment or recovery support options?

If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorder issues, please give us a call. Maryland Addiction Recovery Center offers the most comprehensive dual diagnosis addiction treatment in the Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or your loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (410) 773-0500 or email our team at For more information on all of our drug addiction, alcohol addiction and co-occurring disorder services and recovery resources, please visit our web site at

rainbow fentanyl pills

Table of Contents