Is that candy or fentanyl?

District Attorney Summer Stephan

This time of the year, when mystery and excitement culminate at Halloween parties and other celebrations, parents and teens need to be more aware than ever of how deadly narcotics are playing out in the illegal drug supply with illicit fentanyl and its latest trend called “rainbow fentanyl.”

Colorful pills that closely resemble candy, such as Smarties or SweeTARTS, have been found in 21 states, including California. The pills have markings consistent with generic oxycodone pills, however, they do not contain any the actual medication. Instead, the drugs contain potentially lethal amounts of fentanyl.

There is a real danger that the pills, in their varied pastel colors, will be perceived by children, youth, and young adults to be less harmful than they are, increasing the likelihood they will be consumed, resulting in dependence, serious harm or death.

Already, the proliferation of phony prescription pills and other illicit drugs made with deadly fentanyl is at an all-time high. Illicit fentanyl – a synthetic opioid – comes in a variety of forms, including powders and pills. The pills are most often made to look exactly like legitimate medication such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Xanax. These counterfeit pills, however, contain none of the legitimate medication and instead contain varying amounts of fentanyl.

When people turn to cheap street drugs as an alternative for pharmaceuticals, the possibility for death is high because of the unregulated amount of fentanyl used to make the drug. Using pills that don’t come from a doctor or pharmacy is a gamble akin to Russian roulette.

The danger is not limited to only those who use drugs regularly. I tell the public all the time that the risk for fentanyl overdose deaths is for anyone. The days of thinking an accidental overdose can only happen to those addicted to drugs or those who use regularly is over. This crisis has arrived even for someone who experiments for the first time. From class valedictorians, star athletes to anxious teens with mental health issues to party revelers who want to experiment. One pill can kill.

Last year, more than 800 people died from fentanyl overdoses. It is the leading killer of people between 18 and 45 years of age. Last year fentanyl claimed the lives of 12 children, some as young as 13.

At the District Attorney’s Office, we have a dedicated team of prosecutors whose mission includes prosecuting the dealers who furnish the fentanyl that is causing overdose deaths. We can’t rely on just prosecution as that often comes after the damage is done.

We are also focusing on prevention by educating the community about the dangers of fentanyl. We partnered with medical professionals and treatment providers so that we can attack this problem from as many angles as possible. No one thing is going to solve this problem, but the hope is a coordinated response by dedicated members of the community with varying areas of expertise will improve our chances of preventing our kids from ever trying fentanyl in the first place and reducing the number of overdose deaths we’re experiencing in our community.

If you are with someone who you believe is experiencing an overdose, call 911. Naloxone/Narcan is the best tool available to save the life of someone experiencing an opioid/fentanyl overdose and will not harm a person if it turns out they were not experiencing an opioid overdose. Please educate yourself and your family about the dangers of illicit fentanyl today.

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.