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Can fentanyl be colored?

Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is used for pain management, particularly in cases of severe or chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other medications. However, there are some important things to know about fentanyl, including whether or not it can be colored.

What is fentanyl?

Fentanyl is classified as a narcotic analgesic or opioid pain medication. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, spinal cord and other areas of the body. This blocks pain signals from being transmitted through the body. Some common brand names for fentanyl include Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora, Lazanda, Onsolis and Subsys.

Fentanyl can come in a variety of different forms and preparations:

  • Intravenous (IV) injection
  • Transdermal patches
  • Lozenges or lollipops
  • Buccal tablets
  • Sublingual sprays or tablets

It is a highly potent medication – fentanyl is estimated to be 80-100 times stronger than morphine for pain relief. However, it is also associated with significant risks like addiction, overdose and death if misused or abused.

How is fentanyl abused?

While fentanyl has legitimate medical uses, there has been increasing illicit manufacture, trafficking and abuse of the drug. Some of the ways fentanyl is obtained and misused include:

  • Obtaining prescriptions illegally
  • Stealing fentanyl patches from patients
  • Ordering illicit fentanyl online
  • Improperly obtaining the drug from health care settings
  • Buying diverted fentanyl patches on the street
  • Receiving powdered fentanyl illegally imported from other countries

Illicit fentanyl is sometimes mixed with heroin, cocaine or other street drugs, often without the person knowing. This significantly raises the risk of a fatal overdose due to the extreme potency of fentanyl. According to the CDC, overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased over 15-fold from 2013 to 2019.

Can fentanyl be colored?

Pharmaceutical fentanyl that is legally prescribed usually appears as a clear or white powder or liquid when in pure form. However, illicitly manufactured fentanyl obtained on the street can potentially be altered in many ways, including the addition of coloring.

Some reasons illicit fentanyl powder may be colored include:

  • To differentiate batches or products
  • As a marketing gimmick
  • To mimic the appearance of heroin or other drugs
  • To make fentanyl look less pure or unprofessional

A variety of different colors have been observed in street fentanyl samples seized by law enforcement or tested by harm reduction organizations. Some reports indicate pink, purple, orange, yellow, turquoise, grey or tan-colored fentanyl being sold illicitly.

Analysis of Colored Fentanyl Samples

Here are the results of laboratory testing done on some colored fentanyl powders:

Color Location Year Tested Substances Detected
Pink Connecticut 2017 Fentanyl, acetaminophen
Grey Ohio 2019 Fentanyl, heroin
Purple British Columbia 2016 Fentanyl, benzodiazepines
Orange Alberta 2021 Fentanyl, caffeine, lactose

This data demonstrates some of the adulterants that may be added to colored fentanyl powder purchased illicitly. While dyes are used to change the appearance, other substances are frequently mixed in as well, potentially making the drugs even more dangerous.

Dangers of colored fentanyl

The addition of coloring agents and other additives to illicit fentanyl poses some significant dangers:

  • Masks the identity of the drug: Bright colors can make fentanyl look like candy or other illicit drugs and make it appear less suspicious.
  • Increases poisoning risk: Coloring agents may be toxic substances not meant for human consumption.
  • Higher risk of overdose: Potency of the fentanyl may be even more unclear.
  • Creates a false sense of safety: Appearance does not indicate purity or safety.
  • Difficult to identify risk: Colored fentanyl is easier to disguise and transport.

If you or someone you know encounters colored fentanyl powder, it is safest to avoid consumption and contact emergency services if needed. Testing strips can help identify the presence of fentanyl, but colored varieties may still be harder to detect and carry unpredictable risks of overdose.

How to spot fentanyl

Here are some signs that drugs may contain illicit fentanyl:

  • Powder is extremely fine, similar to powdered sugar
  • Powder or pills are varying or unnaturally bright colors
  • Powder tests positive for fentanyl using test strips
  • Substance was purchased illegally rather than from a pharmacy
  • You experience stronger than expected effects after using a small amount
  • There is evidence baggies, vials or other packaging labeled with fentanyl warnings

If you suspect fentanyl may be present, take precautions and use a very small amount first to assess the effects. Have naloxone and someone who can administer it on hand in case of accidental overdose. Try to avoid using alone – have someone you trust with you who can call for medical help if you experience adverse effects.

Safely disposing of fentanyl

If you come across illegally obtained fentanyl, the safest option is to not consume the drugs and properly dispose of them. Here are some guidelines for safe disposal:

  • Avoid touching fentanyl directly with bare skin. Use gloves.
  • Do not put loose fentanyl powder down drains or flush down the toilet. This risks contaminating the water supply.
  • Mix powdered fentanyl with water in a sealable disposable container to dissolve it.
  • Wrap any transdermal patches securely in duct tape before discarding.
  • Take the dissolved or wrapped fentanyl to a pharmaceutical take-back site or put directly in the trash if take-back is unavailable.
  • Thoroughly wash hands and surfaces after disposal.

Proper disposal can help prevent accidental exposure to fentanyl. If interested in disposing of old fentanyl prescriptions safely, pharmacies and law enforcement agencies can also often provide take-back options.


In summary, illicit fentanyl powder can potentially be colored, though pharmaceutical fentanyl is typically white or clear. Dyes, adulterants and other additives may be mixed in with the fentanyl, posing additional unpredictable risks. If you encounter colored powder sold as fentanyl, it is not recommended to consume it due to the high likelihood of toxicity, overdose and dangerous side effects. Safely dispose of unregulated fentanyl products using proper precautions. Be aware of the signs of fentanyl presence and take steps to prevent accidental exposure and fatal overdoses from this extremely potent substance.