WASHINGTON – The Drug Enforcement Administration has fired out a warning about a new “rainbow fentanyl” that looks like candy that has been found in 18 states.

The trend, the DEA says, “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.”

The DEA did not respond to a request for the identity of the 18 states.

Lt. Jacquelynn Reedy, spokeswoman for the Rio Rancho Police Department, said the department has not seen rainbow fentanyl in Rio Rancho.

She noted, however, that “fentanyl is an issue in Rio Rancho and the state of New Mexico.”

In August, the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office intercepted the shipment of 22,000 fentanyl pills and 4 pounds of meth. Around 8,000 fentanyl pills were ready to hit the streets in Sandoval County, officials said. Laura Whittenburger, of Rio Rancho, was arrested and taken into custody.

The Albuquerque Police Department also did not return a request for information on whether the rainbow fentanyl has been found in Albuquerque.

But illegal drugs are nothing new to New Mexico.

On Sept. 2, several police departments and federal agencies were involved in a massive, $5 million drug bust in Albuquerque that included fentanyl and heroine. Source of the drugs reportedly was the Sinaloa Cartel.

According to a story in The Albuquerque Journal, the pills, believed to be destined for distribution in New Mexico, totaled more than 1 million. About 142 pounds of methamphetamine was also recovered, along with two hand grenades, ballistic vests, a bulletproof baseball cap, 37 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

Five people were arrested, including one alleged member of the Sureños gang, whose crew reportedly has been selling thousands of fentanyl pills each week in Albuquerque, according to a 104-page sworn search warrant affidavit filed by FBI case agent Bryan Acee.

And according to a May, 2022 report by the New Mexico Department of Health, the state in 2020 had the 11th highest drug overdoes rate in the U.S. And two of three overdose deaths involved opioids such as prescription opioids, heroin or fentanyl.

In 2020, the report said, the fentanyl-involved death rate was seven times the rate in 2016.

“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 among kids and young adults,” said DEA Adminstrator Anne Milgran, in a statement. “The men and women of the DEA are relentlessly working to stop the trafficking of rainbow fentanyl and defeat the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”

Brightly-colored fentanyl is being seized in multiple forms, including pills, powder, and blocks that resembles sidewalk chalk. Despite claims that certain colors may be more potent than others, there is no indication through DEA’s laboratory testing that this is the case. Every color, shape, and size of fentanyl should be considered extremely dangerous, according to the press release.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.  Just two milligrams of fentanyl, which is equal to 10-15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose.  Without laboratory testing, there is no way to know how much fentanyl is concentrated in a pill or powder.

Fentanyl remains the deadliest drug threat facing this country, the DEA said.

According to the CDC, 107,622 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2021, with 66 percent of those deaths related to synthetic opioids like fentanyl. Drug poisonings are the leading killer of Americans between the ages of 18 and 45.  Fentanyl available in the United States is primarily supplied by two criminal drug networks, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

In September 2021, DEA launched the One Pill Can Kill Public Awareness Campaign to educate Americans about the dangers of fake pills. Additional resources for parents and the community can be found on DEA’s Fentanyl Awareness page.