Should Parents Worry about Rainbow Fentanyl in Halloween Candy?
An MCSS guest blog written by Avery Meyer, Public Health Analyst for Maryland – CDC Foundation, and John Flickinger, Drug Intelligence Officer for Maryland – Washington Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA)
Recently, there have been media reports about the presence of rainbow-colored fentanyl pills in the illicit drug supply, as well as fentanyl pills being concealed in candy packaging. The motivation behind these methods is being debated, but the message to remember is that fentanyl is increasingly present in the illicit drug market. Given how potent fentanyl is, especially for people without opioid tolerance, ingesting just one of these pills can be deadly. All Marylanders, including parents and youth, must be aware of these dangers.
The tactics recently featured in the news highlight the importance of parents and schools having informed discussions with our youth, to ensure they understand that these deadly counterfeit pills come in various colors and often have pharmaceutical imprints, like “M30,” in an attempt to mock legitimate pharmaceutical medication. Thus, they cannot interpret these markings asan indication these pills are an uncontaminated substance or safe to consume. Drug traffickers regularly utilize pill presses to imitate all types of medications such as OxyContin, Percocet, Xanax, Adderall, etc. The only safe medications are ones prescribed by a medical professional and dispensed by a pharmacy.
The various colors and packaging being shown in the news media currently are likely being used for branding and concealment of the drugs, as opposed to specifically targeting children. Illicit drugs have had various colorings and markings for some time. These bright colors can also serve as an indicator that the pill is counterfeit and likely contaminated with fentanyl, as pharmaceutical pills do not resemble these bright colors. These new colors may cause children to mistake the pills for candy or something else innocuous. As such, and as always recommended, people with children in their home should ensure all medications, pharmaceutical or illicit, are secure and out of reach of children.
A pharmacist with Children’s Health of Orange County in a recent article stated, “The truth is pretty colors are probably contributing very little to the opioid problem; it’s not the color of fentanyl that is the problem. Very few teens who are choosing to consume an addictive and potentially fatal drug will be swayed by a color.” Instead, this article recommends parents talk to their kids about avoiding all drugs that come from an unknown source, particularly those purchased on social media, which is a common drug marketplace for youth. Any illicit pill may contain a deadly amount of fentanyl.
A recent NPR article addressed the concern of pills being trafficked in candy and toy packaging approaching Halloween. It is important to note the pills seized in candy packaging resemble opioid pills and are not disguised as actual candy like Nerds or Skittles. This packaging is likely used by wholesale traffickers to conceal the contents from authorities while they are being transported and is removed before the pills are distributed on the street level. NPR’s piece concludes, “Drug policy experts contacted by NPR agree there is no new fentanyl threat this Halloween.” DEA Administrator, Anne Milgram, also recently stated in a television interview that the DEA has not seen any connection with Halloween and the colored pills.
Prevention of substance use and overdose in our youth is of the utmost importance, and those efforts should be informed by evidence and science. Parents and schools should be talking to our youth about the risks of taking any substance from an unconfirmed source, and about the prevalence and dangers of fentanyl. Ensuring our prevention efforts are evidence-based, and not focused on fearmongering, will allow interventions to be the most impactful. For examples and resources related to evidence-based prevention efforts, please visit the Prevention Intervention Resource Center, part of ADAPT and Washington Baltimore HIDTA.
Additionally, all Maryland residents should learn the signs of an opioid overdose, know about the standing naloxone order, which allows residents to obtain naloxone without a prescription, and understand that the Good Samaritan Law protects people from certain legal repercussions when calling 911 for assistance with an overdose.
For tips from the FDA about safety pertaining to Halloween, please visit this website for more information.
For questions on this topic, please reach out to the Opioid Operational Command Center or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Avery Meyer and John Flickinger are a part of the Overdose Response Strategy program in the state of Maryland. This program is a unique collaboration between public health and public safety, and both Avery and John work in collaboration with the Maryland Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC), and Washington Baltimore HIDTA.
This blog post is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,400,000 with 100 percent funded by CDC/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by CDC/HHS, or the U.S. Government.