Fentanyl in Halloween Candy: Real Worry or Baseless Scare Tactic?


Hidden razorblades, marijuana edibles disguised as treats, cyanide Pixy Stix — for decades, parents have been fed warnings about the threats of deadly foreign agents slipped into their kids’ Halloween candy. Some of the stories are urban legends or devious hoaxes invented to needlessly scare parents, while others have a hint of truth. This year, the worries come in a new flavor: fentanyl. Should you be worried about fentanyl being slipped into your kids’ Halloween trick-or-treat candy? Let’s take a look.

Unlike previous Halloween hoaxes, the warnings this year haven’t been completely baseless. On August 30, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency issued a warning of “Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans.” The report states DEA and law enforcement have seized fentanyl pills disguised to look like brightly-colored candy in 26 states. The report states, “this trend appears to be a new method used by drug cartels to sell highly addictive and potentially deadly fentanyl made to look like candy to children and young people,” and, quoting DEA Administrator Anne Milgram, “is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults.”

The Los Angeles Sherriff’s Department issued a similar release this month, stating a suspect at LAX “attempted to go through TSA screening with several bags of candy and miscellaneous snacks with the intent of boarding a plane. However, it was discovered that inside the “Sweetarts”, “Skittles”, and “Whoppers” candy boxes were fentanyl pills and not candy.” The agents seized approximately 12,000 pills suspected to be fentanyl.

The LASD’s release ends with a warning: “With Halloween approaching, parents need to make sure they are checking their kids’ candy and not allowing them to eat anything until it has been inspected by them.”

Inspecting your children’s Halloween candy is always sound advice. But some experts say the warnings are not enough to cancel trick-or-treating this year.

The most salient reason is that drug dealers have no incentive to distribute drugs that way. The Director of the University of Washington’s Center for Community-Engaged Drug Education, Epidemiology and Research, Dr. Caleb Banta-Green, explained to USA Today that, “while it’s true pastel colors are related to candy, that’s as far as it goes. The goal of drug dealers is to maximize profit, and that can’t be done by giving it out to children for free, or asking them to pay for it when they likely don’t have money.”

But what about devious psychopaths looking to hurt children? Joel Best, Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware, has studied the phenomenon of tainted-Halloween candy since 1958, and speaks about it as Halloween nears every year. Writing in The Conversation, he dismissed the idea of the tainted Halloween candy as a myth, noting, “I can’t find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.”

He notes several examples of previous worries that never panned out, even when there were kernels of truths to them. So should parents fear Halloween candy tainted by fentanyl this year?

No, he reasons: “American history can be read as a long line of fears about witches, immigrants, drugs, conspirators and so on. These fears emerge as reflections of current social changes. Yes, things are always changing, and this can always frighten some people. But it is also true that, in retrospect, these fears are usually exaggerated.”

It’s hard for a parent to dismiss warnings, especially when they come from government agencies and pertain to a drug as deadly as fentanyl. For parents who are still worried, here are some tips to make sure your kids’ trick-or-treating candy is safe:

  • Do not let your children eat any candy until you have inspected it yourself.
  • Make sure that all of the candy is sealed properly and has not been opened.
  • Throw away any homemade treats or unwrapped items that you are unsure about.
  • Consider taking your children trick-or-treating in a small group with trusted adults and sticking to familiar neighborhoods.
  • If possible, only visit homes of people you know and trust, or visit official trick-or-treating events put on by your local city or by reputed organizations.

Of course, parents can always make treats for their families at home — here’s five of our favorite recipes. And before you go trick-or-treating Halloween night here’s our write-up about the history of the spooky tradition.

Happy Halloween!

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