In 2022, fears erupted over “rainbow fentanyl,” brightly colored fentanyl pills that were said to be designed by drug traffickers to lure innocent children into taking opioids. Parents were warned to be on the watch for the pills—especially in their children’s Halloween candy stash.
A warning from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) released last August warned that the increasing presence of brightly colored pills “appears 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.”
“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,” added DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.
However, it was startlingly easy to debunk panic over rainbow fentanyl. As it turns out, drug dealers have plenty of willing adult customers. So why would these they try to lure children, a customer base with no money of their own? And why would dealers give away valuable stock to do so?
“I’m skeptical that [dealers] would try to target children where there is not an existing market,” Sally Satel, an addiction psychiatrist and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told Reason‘s Lenore Skenazy in 2022. Considering the high risk of overdose in children, Satel added that “few would survive and come back for more.”
Just as there are adult reasons for vape companies to sell flavored vape pods, which were the subject of another panic, there are adult reasons for dealers to color their fentanyl—namely, to “brand [their] stuff.”
But this hasn’t kept fears over rainbow fentanyl from gaining momentum again as Halloween nears. Last week, police in Tulalip, Washington, warned parents after finding pastel-colored fentanyl pills at a local casino.
“This is a deliberate effort by the drug cartels to lure young users into using this addictive and deadly street drug,” Tulalip Police Chief Chris Sutter said in a press release. “With Halloween coming up, children will be receiving and sharing candy, it is important that our Community know if rainbow pills are found, they are deadly, and to call the police.”
Earlier this month, more “rainbow fentanyl” pills were also seized near Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Camel used Joe Camel, and it was a cartoon character. The reason they did that was to market to younger people who were more interested or swayed by the presence of a cartoon character,” Charles Odell, the CEO of a local rehab center, told Queen City News, saying that rainbow fentanyl is a similar effort to attract kids.
It should be obvious that unscrupulous drug kingpins are trying to attract paying adults, not kids, with brightly colored fentanyl pills. Law enforcement has nonetheless remained eager to peddle this myth—and foment unnecessary panic.