‘Rainbow’ fentanyl confiscated in Charlotte prompts police warning to parents, kids

Pastel-colored fentanyl recently found in Charlotte could lure children — intentionally or otherwise — to the lethal and addictive substance, one local police leader warns.

Fentanyl — which experts say is laced into nearly every illegally bought drug throughout the country — is the leading cause of local overdose deaths. The drug is a synthetic opioid and usually is white in powder form.

The less common “rainbow” fentanyl, however, is a “deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” according to the DEA.

During a traffic stop earlier this month, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department officers seized 23 grams of suspected fentanyl, 12 grams of heroin, five grams of crack cocaine and nearly 60 grams of suspected synthetic marijuana from a South Carolina fugitive, police posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

CMPD Maj. Luke Sell has seen the otherwise unassuming substance before, but, as Halloween approaches, discovery of the multi-color “rainbow” fentanyl was particularly unsettling, he said, talking with reporters on Tuesday.

“What scares me more than anything ... would be that a child would take that, put it in their mouth and ingest it just thinking it was a Sweetheart or Smartie,” he said.

Sell isn’t certain if dealers market the colored fentanyl toward children or young people. The dye could have simply been a branding tactic, he said.

Nonetheless, the father of two college-aged children worries about what would happen if a kid found one of the pills on a counter or took one at a party.

In July, 17-year-old Laird Ramirez, a Hough High School student, died after taking a laced pill he thought was Percocet, his parents told The Charlotte Observer. His parents — and several others — said students bought and used drugs in the school’s bathrooms and cafeterias.

“It could happen right here at UNCC or Johnson C. Smith or to one of our kids,” Sell said. “Literally, taking a pill is Russian roulette.”

While fentanyl can — and is — reaching young people, it is not concentrated in any demographic or location, Sell said.

The police department, paramedics and the health department can’t fight the growing epidemic alone, he said. Schools, churches and neighborhoods need to be just as involved in spreading the message.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is thinking about what it needs to do to address and stop “these tragic issues,” said Superintendent Crystal Hill said.

“Our school district is a microcosm of our larger community,” she said during a Hood Hargett Breakfast Club discussion Tuesday afternoon.

The club, sponsored by Hood Hargett insurance agency, featured speakers from Medic and Atrium Health last week for a discussion on “Navigating the Fentanyl Crisis in Our Schools.”

The panelists urged everyone to purchase or request the life-saving nasal spray NARCAN, or Naloxone, that reverses overdoses.