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Senator Collins Urges DEA to Address “Rainbow” Fentanyl & Illicit Pills That Target Teens & Young Adults

Maine is the only state in New England with a confirmed report of brightly colored fentanyl. Senator Collins is also pushing DEA to work with social media companies to shut down online marketplaces for fentanyl

Washington, D.C. – In response to the growing prevalence of “rainbow” fentanyl and illicit pills laced with deadly fentanyl, U.S. Senator Susan Collins wrote to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to request an update on the progress being made to stem the flow of fentanyl reaching communities. 


“The flood of counterfeit, fentanyl-laced pills falsely marketed as legitimate prescriptions is driving a dramatic spike in overdose deaths among young people in this country,” wrote Senator Collins.  “This heartbreaking data remarkably predates the infiltration of ‘rainbow’ fentanyl in U.S. markets.  Rainbow-colored fentanyl recovered in Maine has resembled candy and easily could be mistaken for children’s Flintstone vitamins, according to one Maine police chief.”


“While I applaud DEA’s ongoing enforcement efforts and public awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl and counterfeit pills, the reality is that drug traffickers continue to use social media to advertise and sell drugs to teens and young adults,” Senator Collins continued.  “There is no time for delay.  National trends already show that as the supply of illicit fentanyl increases, so do overdose deaths in Americans of all ages. This crisis requires an all-of-government response, and we must be using every tool in the tool box—including partnerships with the private sector—to stop this scourge of drug poisonings.”


In September, the DEA issued a national advisory warning the public of an emerging trend of colorful—or “rainbow”—fentanyl being trafficked in the U.S.  The DEA has said this trend appears to be a new method used by cartels to appeal to adolescents and young adults by making fentanyl look like candy.  “Rainbow” fentanyl has been seized in 26 states, including Maine.  Additionally, drug traffickers are increasingly disguising pills intended to look like Adderall and Percocet that are laced with highly addictive fentanyl.  Between 2019 and 2021, the number of DEA-seized counterfeit pills with fentanyl jumped nearly 430 percent. 


The proliferation of fentanyl has been accompanied by a corresponding surge in fatal drug overdoses among teens and young adults.  Tragically, last year alone, more than 1,100 teens—including two Mainers—died from a drug overdose.  This year, a Maine middle school student with no history of drug abuse died from suspected fentanyl poisoning. 


One year ago, DEA launched its “One Pill Can Kill” campaign to raise awareness about the danger of illicit pills and to put a stop to drug traffickers.  The campaign has also revealed the need for the DEA to work with social media companies to address this issue, since approximately half of the investigations involved in the DEA’s enforcement this summer were linked to social media platforms, including Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and TikTok.


To help inform Congress’ efforts to respond to the opioid crisis, Senator Collins requested that DEA Administrator Anne Milgram answer the following questions:


  1. What impact have the One Pill Can Kill campaign and other public awareness efforts had on increasing public awareness of illicit fentanyl, counterfeit pills, and perceived risk of overdose?


  1. Has the DEA engaged with, or provided any formal direction to, social media companies regarding how they can be effective partners in efforts to stop the sale and distribution of illicit drugs, as referenced in your September 2021 NBC interview?


  1. Does the Administration view adolescents and young adults as a newly vulnerable risk group for drug poisonings?


Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ letter.