An additional $290 million is needed for the federal budget this week to fund a special U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency initiative to combat a recent trend of drug dealers enticing children to buy rainbow-colored fentanyl, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday.
Schumer, speaking during a news conference outside his Manhattan office, compared the pills to the candy SweeTarts and said the funding is needed for the DEA’s 61 overdose response strategy teams across the country.
“They're trying to get children younger and younger, to take this powerful, powerful drug,” Schumer said during a Sunday news conference outside his Manhattan office. “This is nothing but despicable by these drug dealers.”
The overdose response strategy teams are made up of drug intelligence officers and public health analysts who share information across sectors to reduce overdoses, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
The Senate must pass a continuing resolution by the end of the month to fund the federal government until lawmakers can pass a full omnibus bill for the 2022-23 fiscal year. Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, is pushing for the money to be a part of that temporary funding.
“If we get them the dollars they need, which I intend to do in Washington, we can prevent this scourge of fentanyl and rainbow fentanyl in particular, from getting its tentacles into more young kids to any greater extent,” Schumer said.
Last month, the DEA issued a public warning after confiscating multicolored fentanyl pills, powder and blocks in 18 states, and said the drugs could be used to market the deadly synthetic opioid to children. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and was originally intended to treat patients with severe pain, especially after surgery, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Officials in Suffolk and Nassau counties this month also issued warnings on the brightly colored pills, but said they had not been spotted on Long Island.
Mikhail Varshavski, a Manhattan physician who has more than 10 million subscribers on his YouTube account and is better known by his nickname “Doctor Mike,” appeared alongside Schumer and underscored the severity of the problem. He noted the drug’s colors could make teens believe it is less dangerous than it is.
“This is their new strategy to target younger people,” Varshavski told Newsday. “Get them addicted early, which happens very quickly with opioid-based medications, especially ones like fentanyl. Then have them be lifelong consumers.”