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The Tired Narrative

Found in 26 states thus far, “rainbow fentanyl,” a synthetic opioid, has captured attention with its brightly colored appearance. News coverage of rainbow fentanyl has suggested that the drug’s appearance was a malicious and calculated move to attract young children. In addition to mainstream media, government sources – namely, the DEA – continue to fuel and legitimize this narrative with reports and warnings, despite expert calls against this latest line of drug-related misinformation. DEA Administrator Anne Milgram describes it as a “...deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults” and in the August 2022 report, calls for the “defeat” of the “Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”

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This narrative surrounding rainbow fentanyl and its purported candy-like appeal to children have given way to renewed calls for changes to immigration policy (blaming “Joe Biden’s open border policies” for fentanyl-related deaths) and reinforces now-widespread fears of unintentional overdose.

Informed Narrative 
The fear mongering around rainbow fentanyl exacerbates the present drug panic against evidence brought forward by research in the harm reduction sector. Its rainbow appearance does not make it more dangerous or appealing to children and young adults. In fact, its bright colors indicate its presence, making users aware of what they are consuming and thus, safer. The danger of an unregulated drug supply lies in the highly variable composition of illicit drugs and the possibility that a drug that appears to be familiar may have been cut with something that is unknown, of an unknown amount that might prove intolerable to the user. 

Misinformation and fearmongering around drug use can push important information on harm reduction and safe drug use out of the infosphere. It perpetuates the stigmatization of drug use and people who use drugs and lends itself to an atmosphere of panic and tension.

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