‘One pill can kill’: Drug cartels use rainbow-colored fentanyl to attract children

As little as 2 milligrams of fentanyl can be lethal, and the potent opioid is highly trafficked nationwide. Now drug cartels are distributing it in rainbow colored pills intended to appeal to children and teenagers.

Video Transcript

CALEB ALEXANDER: More people died last year from opioids than any year ever on record.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: We've had nine children, nine students who have ODed. One very sadly died as a result of contact with fentanyl.

AMY NEVILLE: The reality is this can happen to anyone.


- Federal authorities want you to be aware of so-called rainbow fentanyl pills. The DEA warns the drug targets children because it looks like candy.

ANNE MILGRAMHOLD: What we're seeing with rainbow fentanyl, we've now, DEA or our law enforcement partners, we've now seized it in 21 states.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: And what's distressing and should be a concern not only here in Los Angeles, across the state, and across the country, is that adult criminal enterprises are finding novel ways of appealing to young people.

CHARLES SCHUMER: They don't tell the kids, it's candy. But they say, oh, this will give you a great high. And it looks innocent. So the kids are far more likely to take it.

CALEB ALEXANDER: Unfortunately, fentanyl is so potent and so powerful that many people overdose and lose their lives unintentionally.

AMY NEVILLE: June of 2020, I lost my 14-year-old son, Alexander, to single pill that he believed was oxycodone. And, unfortunately, that single pill took his life. And we were very confused, obviously, like how could one pill kill him? But we quickly learned about illicit fentanyl and the effects of it.

CALEB ALEXANDER: What we've seen over the past 10 years or so is a huge increase in the availability of illicit fentanyl, fentanyl that's made in underground laboratories and sold either combined with heroin or sold in place of heroin, or in some cases manufactured into counterfeit pills.

AMY NEVILLE: The pill that killed Alex had enough fentanyl in it to kill four people.

CALEB ALEXANDER: Fentanyl is an incredibly potent type of opioid, about 50 times more potent than heroin. And it is, unfortunately, widely trafficked. These efforts to either make the drugs appear more appealing to children or to otherwise make the drug seem maybe more innocent, more benign by making them look more like candy, are not terribly surprising.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: Certainly over the past few weeks, we have seen a significant increase of cases being reported to us. And that's why as a community, as a school system, we distributed Narcan units into all of our senior high schools and middle schools.

CALEB ALEXANDER: Narcan is a type of opioid reversal agent. It's safe. And it's incredibly effective if given to someone that's experiencing an overdose. So we need to get to a point that individuals can get Narcan just as easily as they can find a defibrillator to shock somebody that may be having a heart attack.

ALBERTO CARVALHO: What I would say to the parents is do not underestimate the extreme danger associated with fentanyl in whatever fashion or way it is presented to our kids. It is in our communities. It is in our cities. And regrettably, the students are having access to these drugs. And they're being cleverly concealed as candy, as something that doesn't look anything at all dangerous, but it is. It is deadly.

AMY NEVILLE: We all think that not my kid or my kid will never do that. But I can tell you that you don't know what your kid is going to do.