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The 'alarming trend' of rainbow fentanyl — and how to spot the deadly drug

The brightly-colored fentanyl is being seized in multiple forms, including pills, powder and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Reports of "rainbow fentanyl" have been popping up across the country since the Drug Enforcement Administration first issued a warning about the deadly drug in late August.

DEA agents and other law enforcement officers have seized the brightly-colored fentanyl in at least 26 states, including Ohio. It's been found in multiple forms, including pills powder and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk. 

Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, can be 50 times more potent than heroin, and even a tiny amount can be lethal. About two-thirds of overdose deaths in the U.S. have been linked to fentanyl or other powerful, illicitly made synthetic opioids.

The DEA says the emergence of "rainbow fentanyl" is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction among kids and young adults.

“They know exactly what they are doing. They are poisoning our children and young adults,” said DEA assistant special agent in charge, Michelle Spahn. “A lot of times they are packaging it with bright colors in something like candy that is easy to disguise."

Last week, authorities seized thousands of suspected fentanyl pills hidden in candy boxes during a security screening at Los Angeles International Airport.

Credit: AP
This image provided by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department shows suspected fentanyl pills seized at the Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Los Angeles. Thousands of suspected fentanyl pills disguised in bags of candy were seized at the airport Wednesday and authorities warned parents to be careful about checking their children's candy on Halloween. (Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department via AP)

Should parents be concerned on Halloween?

Experts say legitimate reports of children being harmed by Halloween candy contaminated with drugs like rainbow fentanyl are best understood as urban legends.

RELATED: No, legitimate reports of contaminated Halloween candy are not common

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram addressed the claims in two recent interviews with NBC and Fox News, and said she does not believe that children are at risk of coming in contact with rainbow fentanyl while trick-or-treating.

“At this moment ... we’ve seen nothing that indicates that this is going to be related to Halloween or that drug traffickers are putting it into Halloween candy. If we ever had that information, I would put it out right away because I want everyone to know what we know,” Millgram said. 

Jessie Hatfield, special investigations detective for the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, told 10TV he hasn't seen any reports of the drug being mixed in with candy but did offer up tips for any parent who suspects their kid may be using.

We've seen it a few times where they have a skittles bag, they will cut a little slit in the skittles bag and hide their pills down in there and use a piece of tape or some clear nail polish to seal the bag back up,” Hatfield said.

Beyond the candy bag, law enforcement recommends checking their social media accounts.

“They are using social media as well in order to market this to kids and young adults. On Snapchat, they are utilizing certain emoji's in conjunction with one another to communicate to our children and young adults regarding the sale of fentanyl and counterfeit pills,” DEA special agent Spahn said. 

Drug dealers, according to the DEA, are using social media, especially private messages, to target younger teens.

DEA special agent Spahn is urging parents to have a talk about rainbow fentanyl and other drugs with their kids.

 “Have that conversation and have it now,” Spahn said.

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