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Ore. deputies seize ‘rainbow fentanyl’ powder, issue safety warning

Rainbow-colored fentanyl has been detected in California and appears to be traveling up the West Coast from Mexico for distribution


Photo/Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Facebook

By Maxine Bernstein

MULTNOMAH COUNTY, Ore. — Multnomah County sheriff’s deputies seized about 4 ounces of multi-colored fentanyl powder from a safe in a Northeast Portland apartment last week, prompting a public safety warning Tuesday that the potentially deadly rainbow-colored chunks of powder can be easily mistaken by children for candy.

Pressed powder fentanyl is significantly more potent than pressed pills containing fentanyl because it’s in a purer form, sheriff’s Sgt. Matt Ferguson said.

The powder started showing up in greater quantities in the region this year and now the dyed “rainbow” powder with the consistency of colored chalk is popping up, said Ferguson and Chris Gibson, director of the Oregon-Idaho High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Gibson said the colors “may be a marketing thing to show where it’s coming from, with makers using the colors to mark their products.”

The sheriff’s office and county health departments are partnering to “sound the alarm,” Ferguson said.

“We believe this is going to be the new trend seen on the streets of Portland,” he said.

Rainbow-colored fentanyl has been detected in California and appears to be traveling up the West Coast from Mexico for distribution, Ferguson said.

Authorities in Monterey, California, for example, announced last month that they had arrested two people with what they described as rainbow fentanyl that resembled Lucky Charms cereal.

Nonmedical-grade fentanyl has overtaken heroin and methamphetamine as the No. 1 threat in the region, causing a rise in overdose deaths, according to the Oregon-Idaho High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area 2023 Threat Assessment.

In the Portland metro area, fentanyl typically has been found pressed into counterfeit prescription pills resembling M30 oxycodone tablets, or so-called “blues,” but local police in the last month have noticed people seeking powdered forms of fentanyl, Ferguson said.

“Users are building such a tolerance to the counterfeit M30 pills,” he said. “They’re saying they’re using 20 pills a day and it’s just not working for them. So dealers are requesting pure fentanyl powder now.”

Julie Dodge, Multnomah County’s interim director of behavioral health, said it’s not uncommon for drug forms to shift over time. That’s why it’s important, she said, to share the message — “we take a risk any time we take a substance” when it’s not known who made it or where it came from.

So far this year, about 35 kilograms of powdered fentanyl have been seized by regional narcotics enforcement officers, compared to 5 kilograms seized by the regional task force all of last year, Gibson said. The regional task force also has seized more counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl so far this year, he said.

In Oregon, there were 656 drug overdose deaths from January to October 2021, far higher than the total of 472 in 2020 and 280 in 2019, according to the state health authority.

Oregon recorded 237 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in the first half of 2021, compared to 230 in all of 2020 and 75 in 2019, according to Dr. Sean Hurst, the state medical examiner. Most fentanyl overdoses in the state are due to the combined effects of fentanyl taken with another drug at the same time, he said.

Sheriff’s deputies during last Thursday’s search warrant also seized body armor, nine guns, including some that were stolen or modified, as well as 800 pills laced with fentanyl, according to Ferguson. He said the investigation is continuing into the source of the drugs.

Signs of overdose include pale or clammy skin, bluish or pale lips and fingernails, a limp body, slowed or no breathing, vomiting or foaming at the mouth or difficulty or inability to awaken.

Naloxone, a medication that counteracts the effects of opioids, can reverse an overdose. Oregon’s Good Samaritan Law will protect both the person who administers naloxone and the person who is overdosing from prosecution.

Anyone who uses illicit drugs can get free fentanyl test strips and naloxone kits through Multnomah County Harm Reduction.

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