Home & Leisure

Peddling the Drug Called Fear

Lenore Skenazy on

The Drug Enforcement Agency is warning that drug cartels are making colorful "rainbow fentanyl" to appeal to kids. "Brightly-colored fentanyl is being seized in multiple forms, including pills, powder, and blocks that resemble sidewalk chalk," a DEA press release warns.

And yet there is no evidence that these pills are being peddled to the playground set.

"I'm skeptical that (dealers) would try to target children where there is not an existing market," says Sally Satel, an addiction psychiatrist and resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. What's more, young kids are a true loss leader, because without a "significant tolerance for opioids," the chances of overdosing are huge. So "few would survive and come back for more."

Which is not to say that the colors aren't possibly designed to make the pills more attractive to an audience safely out of elementary school, Satel added, just like heroin packets come stamped with all kinds of edgy names and images.

Reilly Capps, a drug writer for The Washington Post and Rooster magazine, agreed: On the one hand, "It's a way to brand your stuff." For instance, he says, at raves, "people will walk around with backpacks, saying, 'Molly, molly, molly,'' peddling different shapes and colors of Ecstasy. Some pills are shaped like Mickey Mouse, some are branded "Tesla," and so on.

These undoubtedly appeal to a certain segment of the market. But that segment is not the sidewalk hopscotch crowd the DEA implies the Mexican drug cartels are targeting.

Such nuance is often lost when the story hits the news cycle, which it is doing right now. While a long piece on CNN explicitly said "parents of young children should not overly panic" -- props, CNN! -- a WRAL piece began, "We all know how easy it is for children to pass candy around to each other..." as if rainbow fentanyl is about to be shared like M&M's.

Many media outlets simply ran the DEA press release without any independent reporting, says Ryan Marino, a Case Western Reserve School of Medicine emergency room doctor with a specialization in addiction and toxicology. Colors have been added to drugs for years, he says. The real danger isn't that kids are being given fentanyl like candy. It's that fentanyl is being pressed into the shape of other drugs, like Oxycodone. People take a fentanyl pill thinking it is something else, and OD.


But of course, it's the kiddie angle that's irresistible to the media, because it provides a huge rush of our culture's favorite drug: fear for our children. We just can't get enough of stranger danger.

The reaction to that rush is just as predictable: Calls to throw more money at the DEA to keep our kids safe.

"Chuck Schumer wanted 290 million more dollars because of this," said Capps. But that money could be spent on any number of life-enhancing, abuse-reducing initiatives, Capps points out, including harm reduction programs. It could even go toward hiring "parkies" to keep parks safe from drug dealers -- so young people could go back to playing outside on their own, a mood brightener for any age.

Fentanyl is a deadly drug. It is a scourge upon the land. But frightening parents about one more danger that leads them to lock their kids inside isn't making America more safe. It's making America more scared, depressed and angry -- an America that wants to be sedated.


Lenore Skenazy is president of Let Grow, a contributing writer at, and author of "Has the World Gone Skenazy?" To learn more about Lenore Skenazy ( and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate, Inc.



For Heaven's Sake 9 Chickweed Lane Reply All Marshall Ramsey Between Friends Andy Marlette