Spooked by reports of candy-colored fentanyl? There's no reason to worry, experts say
Fears of someone sticking something dangerous in your kids' Halloween candy are nothing new. We're old enough to remember rumors of razor blades in apples and candy bars laced with cyanide.
This year's scare involves the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl finding its way into trick-or-treat bags. And in a surprise twist, unlike most Halloween candy panics, this one at least has its origins in reality.
Back in August, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning about brightly colored fentanyl pills discovered in 26 states. They called it "rainbow fentanyl" and said it could be part of an effort to lure kids and young adults into addiction.
While none of these cases involved Halloween, and law enforcement agencies never suggested a connection, it nonetheless stoked nationwide chatter about drug dealers slipping candy-colored pills to trick-or-treaters.
Members of the U.S. Senate soon hopped on board. Earlier this month, 12 Republican senators released a public service announcement about rainbow fentanyl and Halloween. It included this fright-inducing warning: "The powerful drug cartels are coming after your kids, your neighbors, your students, your family members, and your friends."
Not to be outdone by his colleagues on the right, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chimed in. During a news conference in New York, Schumer held up photos of rainbow fentanyl and SweeTarts candy and said, "You tell me the difference. Halloween is coming up. ... This is really worrisome and really dangerous."
So, will your kids and grandkids be safe trick-or-treating Monday? Will knocking on neighborhood doors asking for treats lead them down the path of opioid addiction and worse?
'Impossible and ludicrous'
We asked suburban law enforcement leaders and other experts. Their verdict? While it's a good idea to exercise caution when it comes to Halloween candy, there's no reason for added alarm this year.
"It's always important to remain vigilant and for parents to inspect their kids' haul, but there's no intelligence, no indication that the rainbow fentanyl has made it to Illinois yet," Arlington Heights Police Chief Nicholas Pecora told us this week.
We heard the same from Lake Zurich Police Chief Steve Husak, Deputy Chief Christopher Covelli of the Lake County sheriff's office and Palatine police Cmdr. David Brandwein.
"While (rainbow fentanyl) does exist across the country, it is certainly not prevalent here," Covelli said.
"It's a concern to be sure, but there's no reason to believe they'll be targeting children on Halloween," Brandwein added.
David Herzberg, a University of Buffalo history professor who studies drug commerce, use and policy, said there are two reasons fentanyl has become 2022's Halloween boogeyman. First, "it's legitimately scary."
"And the markets for fentanyl are new and therefore they're an unfamiliar threat," he said.
Second, the political climate has some using the drug's surge to paint a broader picture of failed policies and moral decline.
"If someone were really making rainbow-colored fentanyl to try to attract children, that would be an indication of a society that had really lost its way morally," he said.
But pragmatically speaking, Herzberg told us, it makes no sense for fentanyl dealers to give their product away to trick-or-treating children.
"The most radical thing that I regularly say on this topic is actually something not even remotely radical, which is that drug dealers are in business to earn money," he said. "From that perspective, giving fentanyl to 8-year-olds is insane, because 8-year-olds don't have disposable income.
"Let's say you successfully get an 8-year-old addicted to fentanyl, which is absolutely impossible and ludicrous for a billion different reasons. That person can't go out and buy more fentanyl. It's a useless investment," Herzberg said.
As for brightly colored fentanyl pills showing up in children's toys and candy boxes, Herzberg said it's likely the result of dealers searching for new ways to brand their product and successfully smuggle it past authorities. "I am a parent, and I send my teenager and 20-something kids warnings about the illegal drug supply all the time," Herzberg said. "There's a lot to be worried about, but trick-or-treating isn't one of them."
Another Halloween scare
If rumors of tainted candy don't frighten you, maybe your kids' unknowingly knocking on the door of a registered sex offender does.
Fortunately, there's a way you can avoid that.
Several suburban law enforcement agencies are encouraging parents to download the free OffenderWatch app, which will allow them to follow their kids' travels via smartphone and see if they are at or near a registered offender's home.
"Parents should search for offenders on their trick-or-treat route and near any addresses where their children spend time," DuPage County Sheriff James Mendrick said.
The sheriff's office is one of more than 5,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, including 120 in Illinois, that partner with OffenderWatch.
Don't want to download the app but still want to be cautious? You also can visit the Illinois State Police sex offender registry to search by name, hometown or ZIP code, at isp.illinois.gov/Sor.
Take Back Day
You may think those old prescription drugs sitting in your medicine cabinet are harmless. More likely, you don't think about them at all.
But law enforcement and substance abuse experts think of them as a gateway to addiction.
That's why police departments and the DEA are partnering this weekend for National Take Back Day.
On Saturday, people can bring their expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs to their local police departments for proper disposal. It's free and anonymous, no questions asked.
Police and DEA officials say prescription drugs that languish in home cabinets are highly susceptible to diversion, misuse and abuse, and can lead to accidental poisonings and overdoses. Studies show a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet, according to the DEA.
Then there's this: Tossing unused medicines in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can lead to land and water pollution, potentially harming plant and animal life, as well as contaminating food and water supplies, experts say.
For more information, and to find out if and when your local department is participating, visit dea.gov/takebackday.
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