DENVER — Three months of targeted operations by Drug Enforcement Administration agents uncovered thousands of lethal fentanyl doses in Colorado. Undercover agents have also been able to purchase the emerging counterfeit drug "rainbow fentanyl," according to the DEA Rocky Mountain Division.
"We have seen rainbow fentanyl through some of our undercover deals right now," said Brian Besser, special agent in charge of the DEA Rocky Mountain Division. "We've seen it in Grand Junction, we've seen it in Pueblo, Colorado Springs and here in the Denver area. Not mass quantities yet, but we know where there's smoke, there's fire."
Besser has served in law enforcement for 31 years. Twenty-five of those years have been with the DEA. He said rainbow fentanyl is a new way for criminal drug networks like the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to make money.
"There are countless pills, millions and millions of pills available on the street," said Besser. "When you have an oversaturated market, that drives the price point down per pill. And it's all about making money. We are talking about greed-driven and profit-driven enterprises that don't care about you, me, our kids or the communities."
Besser explained the brightly colored pills are targeted to younger audiences and equally as deadly as their blue counterparts.
"They're attractive, they're colorful, they look like candy," he said.
Phase III of the DEA's One Pill Can Kill campaign also led to staggering fentanyl seizures by DEA agents across the country, including Rocky Mountain agents.
"As part of the One Pill Can Kill initiative, the DEA and its law enforcement partners seized more than 10.2 million fentanyl pills and approximately 980 pounds of fentanyl powder during the period of May 23 through Sept. 8, 2022," the DEA shared in this press release.
Besser said Rocky Mountain agents seized, "hundreds of thousands" of pills. Of those, a specified number have been classified as lethal.
"In only a three and a half month time frame, we have seized over 60,000 confirmed lethal doses of fentanyl in the Colorado area," said Besser. "To me, 60,000 doses — lethal doses — is 60,000 lives that we know we have saved."
The pills are being bought and sold online for as cheap as a dollar, and kids can find them using only emojis, Besser shared.
"Payment can be done completely anonymously — Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, you name it," he said. "Once the funds are sent, the drugs are shipped, they're dropped and they're received.
"It literally takes a matter of seconds, and at its longest, minutes, because these people go into respiratory failure, and that's the power of the drug. We're talking about a potentially lethal dose. If that person consumes a lethal dose, it can be lights out within seconds."
Besser encourages parents to begin having conversations with their children about the dangers of fentanyl as soon as possible.
"No socioeconomic class is immune. I have seen parents, businessmen, clergy, soccer moms, police officers struggling with opioid addiction and poisonings," he said. "No one is off limits. The conversation has to happen now, and it has to be important."
The DEA recently created a fact sheet for parents and caretakers to quickly identify the need-to-know of the fentanyl crisis.