DEA warns about using fentanyl in bright colors 0:44
A new wave of concern has spread across the United States over multi-colored “rainbow fentanyl” pills, powders and blocks — which look like candy or sidewalk chalk — being sold and used in several states and that potentially pose a threat to young people.
Parents of minors, however, should not panic too much;
the emergence of this new product is a small part of the current opioid crisis.
Rainbow fentanyl comes in bright colors and can be used in pill or powder form that contain illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, making them extremely addictive and potentially deadly if someone overdoses while trying to get high from the drug. .
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This multicolored fentanyl may lure young people or trick them into thinking it's safe, but experts say illicit fentanyl has been hiding in what appears to be other products for a long time, and fentanyl is fentanyl: everything is dangerous, rainbow or not
"Colored fentanyl pills have been around for a few years. They have generally been blue pills labeled 'M30' to counterfeit oxycodone, which is a much weaker opioid," explained Joseph Palamar, an associate professor in the Department. of Population Health at NYU Langone Health, which has studied illicit fentanyl trends, in an email to CNN.
"I think the big difference that people are concerned about is accidental ingestion. People are concerned that their child will take one of these pills thinking it's another drug or even thinking it's some kind of candy," Palamar said. .
"I don't think the color of the pills adds much to the danger for people who aren't using fentanyl, but there is always the possibility that someone who uses fentanyl leaves their pills in the hands of children."
"We have to keep in mind that these pills cost money, so people aren't going to throw them on the ground for minors to find. I don't think people are going to give them away as Halloween candy," he added.
Where the fentanyl rainbow warning originated
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning in August informing the public of this "alarming emerging trend" of "colored fentanyl available throughout the United States."
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At the time, the agency said it and its law enforcement partners seized the brightly colored fentanyl and fentanyl pills in 18 states.
Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing the nation, according to the DEA.
But the DEA did not specify in its announcement whether rainbow fentanyl had caused overdoses or deaths among the youth.
"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 addictively among minors and young adults," said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, in the August announcement.
Since then, some colleges and universities are warning students about the presence and dangers of rainbow fentanyl, and the California Department of Public Health has alerted K-12 school administrators in the state that rainbow fentanyl is "a new trend".
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At Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora, doctors have seen more fentanyl exposures among young children and adolescents, Dr. Sam Wang, a pediatric toxicologist at the hospital, told CNN on Friday.
While he and his colleagues are aware of the warnings about rainbow fentanyl, he hasn't heard any patients or parents mention it.
After all, the bottom line, he said, is that fentanyl is fentanyl, whether it comes in rainbow-colored pills or simply as a white powder.
"It's just coming out in a different form to be potentially more attractive, more quote unquote 'fun' to use because it looks potentially fun to take," said Wang, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.
And when young people use illicit drugs, they sometimes don't know what's really in them or how dangerous those substances can be.
When it comes to rainbow fentanyl, "fentanyl itself is going to be the same problem as counterfeit pharmaceutical fentanyl. We don't know how much is in it; it can vary. We don't know the type of fentanyl," Wang said. to this product. Now it looks like it has a potential hazard to young children and it will also be more attractive for people to use and it will have consequences."
The rise of fentanyl
The United States has been facing an opioid overdose epidemic — and waves of opioid overdose deaths — for decades, beginning with a surge in prescription opioid overdose deaths in the early 2000s, followed by a surge in heroin overdose deaths beginning in 2010 and, more recently, a surge in synthetic opioid overdose deaths beginning in 2013, fueled by the potent fentanyl.
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Pharmaceutical fentanyl is a synthetic opioid intended to help patients, such as those with cancer, manage severe pain.
It is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and is usually prescribed as a skin patch or pill.
But the most recent cases of fentanyl-related harm, overdose and death in the United States are linked to illegally manufactured fentanyl, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The most recent data suggests that annual drug overdose deaths have increased by 44% since before the covid-19 pandemic.
About 76,000 deaths were reported in the 12-month period ending in March 2020. The most recent provisional data from the CDC shows that more than 109,000 people in the United States died from drug overdoses in the 12-month period ending in March 2022.
Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, were involved in more than two-thirds of overdose deaths in the year ending March 2022. Deaths related to synthetic opioids increased by a staggering 80% in the last two years, according to CDC data show.
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Rainbow fentanyl has received attention due to the bright colors of the products, but the illicit fentanyl contained in the products represents a continuation of the ongoing opioid epidemic.
The only difference between Rainbow Fentanyl and the fentanyl products of the past seems to be the color.
"The reason it's colored is just to differentiate products. If we had a regulated market, they would be differentiated in different ways, we don't. It has nothing to do with marketing to minors, period, not at all," Maya said. Doe Simkins, co-founder of the Opioid Safety and Naloxone Network and co-director of the Remedy Alliance, a collection of harm reduction groups working to make naloxone more accessible.
Simkins compared the different colors of rainbow fentanyl to how people used food dyes on heroin in the past, saying the colors are sometimes used to differentiate batches.
"It's just a differentiation between your product, my product or this batch and the next batch," he explained.
Increase in fentanyl seizures
Illicit fentanyl has been hidden in drugs for a long time and its presence seems to be increasing.
A study, published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence in May, found that the amount of fentanyl-containing powder and pills seized by law enforcement in the United States increased between 2018 and 2021.
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The weight of fentanyl powder seizures increased from 298.2 kilograms in 2018 to 2,416 kilograms in 2021, and the number of pills seized rose from 42,202 in 2018 to 2,089,186 in 2021, according to the study, authored by Palamar. major.
“We found that not only have fentanyl seizures increased, but the proportion of pills seized to overall fentanyl seizures has also increased. The proportion of pill seizures increased from 14% at the beginning of 2018 to 29% at the end of of 2021," Palamar wrote in his email to CNN.
"We have no information on what these seized pills purportedly were, but we believe many were disguised as oxycodone or even Xanax," he wrote.
"Seizures of these counterfeit pills have been increasing at a rapid rate, suggesting greater availability, and availability will continue to increase."
With this surge, counterfeit pills have been more difficult to identify, but Palamar said people can use test strips to detect traces of illicit fentanyl if in doubt.
"People can buy fentanyl test strips for as little as a dollar. Most of these strips are intended for urine testing, but can detect the presence of fentanyl if used correctly," Palamar wrote.
"I strongly recommend that anyone planning to use an illegally purchased pill or illegal powder like cocaine try the drug before using it," he added.
"There are also hundreds of new fentanyl analogs and other opioids that can be very dangerous that test strips can't detect. I worry that test strips give some people a false sense of security, but they are something."
CNN's Nadia Kounang and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.
CNN's Nadia Kounang and Deidre McPhillips contributed to this report.