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Fentanyl Fatalities: A Halloween Nightmare

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Jim Bishop, Linda-Marie Sundstrom & Mark Kling
October 14, 2022

“I was like, what is fentanyl?  How would my happy, healthy, 17-year-old in the suburbs get a hold of this substance?” Quote from a Grieving Mother

As we approach Halloween and see the scary images of ghosts and goblins, we can add a real-life horror to the nightmare—the escalating fentanyl-related fatalities impacting our children. 

According to the CDC, in 2021 fentanyl accounted for more than 70 percent of overdose death in teens (ages 14-18). In September 2022, 7 youth overdosed on fentanyl in Los Angeles alone, including a 15-year-old girl who died on her high school campus. 

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid pain killer with effects similar to heroin and oxycodone. However, it is 50 times more potent than heroin. Just two milligrams (equivalent to a few grains of salt) of fentanyl can be lethal. To make things worse, counterfeit pills are emerging that look like Xanax, Percocet and Adderall but only contain fentanyl in uncontrolled amounts. Taking these pills becomes a form of Russian Roulette. Fentanyl is just as addictive as heroin, but its effect is of much shorter duration. Therefore, users need to continue consuming even greater quantities to stay high.

Why is Fentanyl So Deadly?

The pills are produced in unregulated labs. A drug dealer, with raw fentanyl, can manufacture pills by combining fentanyl with fillers (such as talcum powder) in a blender. With the margin of error so small (the difference of a few grains of salt), some pills end up containing little or no fentanyl, while others have a lethal dose. Currently, it is estimated that 47 percent of all counterfeit pills in circulation contain a lethal dose of fentanyl. 

Rainbow Fentanyl

Recently, drug cartels started manufacturing colorful pills, called Rainbow Fentanyl, to appeal to the younger generation. According to the DEA, when children are shown heroin and syringes on one side of a table, and brightly colored fentanyl pills on the other side, the children immediately view the heroin as the most dangerous between the two options—even though the fentanyl pills are 50 times more potent and deadly. These pills are viewed as a fun “party drug” and are widely accepted by youth. Children can easily find dealers who will supply these drugs using coded emojis on their smartphones. 

Role of the Government

With fentanyl fatalities escalating in the country, especially among vulnerable youth, the government needs to help create solutions to address the devastation. Options include confiscation, legislation and education.


In order to prevent fentanyl fatalities, the drug must be confiscated and taken off the streets. This can begin at the international level, by convincing foreign governments to stop drug shipments at the source. In the past few years, China has been the main supplier of fentanyl to the drug cartels in Mexico.  However, Mexico is now capable of manufacturing the drug in their own labs. The drug is smuggled into the United States for distribution. One kilogram of fentanyl costs a drug dealer approximately $15,000, which can be used to make 400,000-500,000 pills. Each pill is sold for $5-$10, for a profit of upwards of $5 million. DEA is working with Border Patrol and Coast Guard to try to find the smuggling routes into the country and shut them down. But with such large profit margins, the battle is escalating.


Stricter Penalties: Currently, laws to prosecute fentanyl dealers are the same as those for cocaine, even though deaths from fentanyl far outweigh those from cocaine. Increasing the penalties for smuggling, manufacturing or distributing fentanyl (especially to children), may serve as a deterrent to decrease the sale of the deadly drug. 

Naloxone Laws: Many opioid overdose deaths are preventable with the timely administration of a nasal spray known as naloxone (Narcan). In some regions, first responders carry naloxone to administer to people who have overdosed. The laws regarding required training and ability to purchase naloxone also vary widely from state to state. Legislators should consider passing laws that allow citizens to purchase naloxone to help family and friends who may overdose on fentanyl. 


Communities need to know that illegally-sold drugs (like Xanax and Percocet) are most likely counterfeit pills that contain fentanyl. With no “quality control” measures, one pill may end up containing no fentanyl, while another one contains a lethal dose. The DEA’s website, One Pill Can Kill, provides information for parents, children and schools. Education is critical to help children understand that these brightly colors pills are not a Halloween Treat, but a potentially deadly choice. 


To address the devastating effects of fentanyl-related fatalities, the federal government must actively engage in dialog with our international partners to shut down the manufacturing and smuggling routes.  Citizens should pressure all levels of government to shut down the street-level distribution of this deadly drug and contact their legislators to enact stronger penalties for fentanyl dealers. They should also encourage legislators to increase access to naloxone (Narcan). Finally, citizens should educate themselves and their children about the deadly dangers of fentanyl and take the DEA’s message “One Pill Can Kill” seriously.

Author: Professor Jim Bishop has been teaching law for the past 42 years and is currently a faculty member at California Baptist University’s Criminal Justice Department.  He has been a licensed attorney in the State of California since 1975 and practiced law for 15 years, before becoming a judicial officer for Riverside County Superior Court, primarily serving on a Criminal Calendar. Email: [email protected]

Author: Dr. Linda-Marie Sundstrom is a former Fulbright Scholar who taught Public Administration in Ukraine at a university under the Office of the Ukrainian President.  She worked for 20 years in local government and has taught in Master of Public Administration Programs for nearly two decades.  She is currently the MPA Program Director for California Baptist University in Southern California. Email: [email protected]

Author: Dr. Mark Kling has been in law enforcement for 34 years, 13 as police chief. He has taught both Public Administration and Criminal Justice courses for the past 20 years. He is currently the Criminal Justice Program Director for California Baptist University and came out of retirement to transition the Rialto Police Department to new innovative executive leadership. Email: [email protected] / [email protected]

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