NEWS

Do Parents Really Have to Worry About Drugs In Halloween Candy?

Rainbow-colored fentanyl on display by the Drug Enforcement Administration

Drug Enforcement Administration

Key Takeaways

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning about brightly-colored fentanyl that looks like candy, which could target children.
  • This has many parents wondering whether this "rainbow fentanyl" could end up in their kids' trick-or-treating baskets this Halloween.
  • Experts say it's not likely your child will get any rainbow fentanyl in their Halloween basket but play it safe always inspecting their treats.

This Halloween might be the first time kids will have a semi-normal celebration in a couple of years. Now that the COVID-19 pandemic is slowing down, more kids may be allowed to go door-to-door trick-or-treating. But a new concern is on many parents' minds. Some worry about dangerous drugs that may be hiding in their children's candy.

These worries didn't just pop out of nowhere though. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a warning about "rainbow fentanyl," a dangerous drug manufactured in bright colors, potentially to lure children and teens into trying it. Since then, the DEA and other law enforcement agencies have seized these colored fentanyl pills in 26 states.

Experts say it is highly unlikely for narcotics to end up in your child's Halloween basket. "Despite our annual 'tradition' of worrying about poisoned or dangerous candy being handed out to our children on Halloween, there is very little evidence of this actually happening," says Ravi Chandiramani, NMD, a naturopathic doctor at Soul Surgery.

That being said, you should always inspect the treats your child collects and toss out anything that looks suspicious, including anything that isn't packaged. Let's break down the details about rainbow fentanyl, whether you should be worried about it or other drugs coming into your child's hands this Halloween, and how to stay safe.

Is Giving Out Drugs In Halloween Candy A Myth?

This is not the first time parents have been worried about Halloween candy being laced with drugs. For years rumors have circulated about drugs, razor blades or needles being secretly hidden in treats.

These fears go back to the early 1970's when an op-ed in The New York Times spelled out some hypothetical situations of this nature. This misconception continued into the mid-1980's when a study looked at alleged poisoning incidents only to show not a single confirmed death or serious injury from Halloween candy tampering.

This year's panic about rainbow fentanyl is in part fueled by the fact that the pills were recently found in a suitcase at a Los Angeles airport. They were packaged inside common candy wrappers. Following this incident, parents were warned again to check Halloween candy.

While it is hard to believe that drugs are being distributed [to children] in this way, we have to consider it to be a possibility.

STEVE GRELLA, POLICE DETECTIVE

"While it is hard to believe that drugs are being distributed [to children] in this way, we have to consider it to be a possibility," says Steve Grella, a veteran detective with 12 years police experience in New York. "While some experts contend this is a myth, the best course of action is to inspect your child's Halloween basket and discard anything suspicious. [If it looks like drugs], notify the police immediately."

So is this incident proof that it's more than just a myth? Not exactly. The rainbow fentanyl found at the airport was likely to disguised as candy purely for smuggling purposes, rather than to target kids. "It's not a complete myth, but the risk has been sensationalized, leading to irrational fear," says Rick Musson, a 20-year law enforcement officer and a consultant with Clearsurance.

Why Are Drugs Made to Look Like Candy?

There a couple of reasons why drugs may be manufactured to look like candy. Brightly-colored or sweet-tasting drugs may be more appealing to children. More likely though, drugs are disguised as candy make them more difficult for law enforcement to identify. "If the drugs are in plain sight, it's much easier for police to seize them," notes Grella. "But if they're disguised as candy, it's much harder to tell them apart from the real thing."

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful opioid, intended to treat severe pain in a medical setting. According to the Centers on Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine. The drug is sold illegally and it is extremely dangerous because of the high risk of overdose.

Should I Be Worried About My Children's Halloween Candy?

You most likely don't have to worry too much about drugs in Halloween candy. There is no big motivation for drug dealers to give fentanyl out to children, especially because the risk of overdose and death would be so high if they did. "Just two milligrams of fentanyl, which is equal to 10-15 grains of table salt, is considered a lethal dose," notes Dr. Chandiramani.

However, just because criminals may not be targeting children, it does not mean it's impossible for these drugs to fall into children's hands. It's still important to inspect all of your child's Halloween candy. You should also talk to them about asking before they sample their candy on the go.

"Parents do not need to be excessively worried or overly frightened as Halloween draws near; however, parents do need to make sure they are checking their kids' candy and not allowing them to eat anything until it has been inspected by them personally," says Dr. Chadiramani.

Halloween candy should be sealed in familiar store-bought packaging. If it isn't, it should be thrown out. "Look for any signs of tampering, such as loose wrappers or opened packages," says Grella. "It's also a good idea to avoid allowing your children to accept any homemade candy, as it's harder to know if it has been properly cooked or sanitized."

If you see anything suspicious or anything that you think could be drugs, contact your local law enforcement.

What This Means for You

It's normal to be worried about what could be in the "treats" your child is getting from people they might not know. If you are feeling concerned about drugs or other dangers in your kids' trick-or-treat baskets this Halloween, take a deep breath. It is highly unlikely they end up with anything except too much sugar.

That being said, it is always important to inspect every treat your child receives. Make sure it is sealed in a familiar package before your child eats it and throw out anything that looks off. If you see anything potentially dangerous, contact local law enforcement.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Drugs Enforcement Administration. DEA Warns of Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans.

  2. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Halloween Food Safety Tips for Parents.

  3. Best J, Horiuchi GT. The razor blade in the apple: the social construction of urban legends. Social Problems. 1985;32(5):488-499. https://doi.org/10.2307/800777

  4. National Public Radio. Authorities seize thousands of suspected fentanyl pills hidden at Los Angeles Airport.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fentanyl.

  6. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Halloween Food Safety Tips for Parents.

By Elisa Cinelli
Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based content to help parents make the best decisions for their families. She has written for well-known sites including POPSUGAR and Scary Mommy, among others.