It’s Halloween, my ghoulish friends, the time of spooks, spirits, and things that serve subpoenas in no-knock raids in the night is upon us. So it’s no surprise that the American Drug Enforcement Agency is continuing to haunt us with scary campfire tales warning of, uh, children eating “drug laced candy” tonight, despite the near-total lack of evidence that this is much of a threat to the world’s young trick-or-treaters.
Numerous local news stations and papers across the country have run with a “Halloween Drug Laced Candy Alert” from the DEA’s St. Louis office that warns “law enforcement, first responders and parents to be aware of Marijuana-laced and Methamphetamine-laced candy this Halloween,” citing increased seizures of products “including but not limited to chocolates, suckers and gummies.”
“The DEA St. Louis Division has not identified any specific threats but issues this as an advisory,” the agency added. It also provided a photo of seized candy with brand names like “Rasta Reese’s,” “Buddahfinger,” and “3 Rastateers.”
The DEA didn’t immediately return a request for comment from Gizmodo, but we’ll update this piece if we hear back.
As the Guardian noted this month, there is one documented case in 1974 when eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan died after consuming laced Halloween candy, though the substance in question was cyanide and it was actually provided by his father Ronald Clark O’Bryan (later convicted and executed for murder).
Other cases have popped up, but they’ve largely been anecdotal: A rare case in Ohio this month of a young boy who tested positive for methamphetamines after trick-or-treating reportedly coincided only with trick-or-treating, though it’s not clear how he was exposed. It could have been candy, it could have been the plastic vampire teeth he was wearing, or it could have been something else entirely.
“This is an oddity,” Galion Police Chief Brian Saterfield told CNN. “This is not something that happens all the time.”
The Guardian noted two other isolated incidents, one of which was a freakish accident and the other of which was not the result of laced candy per se:
There are a couple of incidents that could have sparked this myth. In San Francisco, a post-office worker who handed out unclaimed chocolate bars was seemingly unaware the sweet treats had been part of an attempt to smuggle drugs.
In another case, in 1970, a five-year old appeared to have died after eating Halloween candy laced with heroin. However, investigators discovered the drug had been added to the sweets in an attempt to cover up the fact that the child had accidentally ingested heroin found elsewhere in the house.
And here’s some more context on “Halloween sadism,” per Thrillist:
University of Delaware professor of sociology and criminal justice Joel Best is the leading researcher on poisoned Halloween candy, or as he calls it, “Halloween sadism”.
Best doesn’t believe there’s any evidence to suggest that this legend of poison candy is real. He’s updated his paper containing research on the subject every year since 1985.
He doesn’t hedge on the results, which have remained unchanged since the paper’s first publication: “I have been unable to find a substantiated report of a child being killed or seriously injured by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.”
Almost every reported incident involving poisoned Halloween candy or foreign objects inserted in Halloween candy has been a hoax.
Basically, there’s no evidence that handing out drugged candy to random neighbourhood kids on Halloween, as the media reports on the conveniently timed DEA advisory suggested, has ever occurred on any scale that should raise genuine concern.
Drugs are expensive, and most people in possession of them intend to use them or sell them to others who do. (The photo the DEA provided in its press release, for example, appears to match a drug bust from over a decade ago.)
There is more of a risk that marijuana edibles laying around somewhere could be mistaken by a child for an innocuous sweet, and the risk of accidental ingestion may indeed be somewhat higher on a night known for massive bags of candy.
But as the Washington Post noted, it is hundreds to thousands times more likely for children to be poisoned by common household objects like over the counter drugs, toothpaste, bleach, detergent, pens, tobacco or glue. Even in legal-weed states like Colorado, the paper added, marijuana poisoning rates among children “have nowhere to go but up, as they are almost literally at rock-bottom now”.
As for meth-laced Halloween candy being passed out, what exactly have people who are worried about this been smoking? It’s possible, but so too is spending your evening being chased around by a big dude in a mask with a knife who’s already knocked off your friends one by one.
So, to recap: The threat of drug-laced Halloween candy seems to have persisted on anecdotes or half-remembered mistellings of mostly ancient or misinterpreted incidents, requiring either gullibility or suspension of disbelief from the audience to believe in the supposedly imminent threat.
In other words, the drug-war crowd has the perfect scary story to tell you in the dark this Halloween. Lock your doors and bar your windows, because the hippies are coming, and they don’t have any respect for the law at all.