Halloween is Over and It Looks Like No One Got Fentanyl Candy After All

Law-enforcement spent weeks scaremongering about opioids showing up in candy this Halloween. Despite the media frenzy, no drugs seem to have actually turned up.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department claimed the fentanyl smuggled above was destined for children on Halloween.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department

Halloween is Over and It Looks Like No One Got Fentanyl Candy After All

Law-enforcement spent weeks scaremongering about opioids showing up in candy this Halloween. Despite the media frenzy, no drugs seem to have actually turned up.

This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion and analysis.

It is now Nov. 1, which means Halloween is over, rent is due, and the children of some of America’s more permissive parents probably got to sneak a few Twizzlers for breakfast. And, if one of the most alarming news stories this fall was correct, scores of children should be dead or hospitalized from exposure to so-called “rainbow fentanyl,” the candy-colored opioid pills that cops and TV news channels around the nation warned would be getting handed out to trick-or-treaters this year.

Of course, this does not appear to have panned out. So far, there has not been a single credible report of a child actually finding or ingesting “rainbow fentanyl” in their Halloween hauls. According to a search of news headlines this morning, the police officers, politicians, and media outlets that pushed this narrative appear to have abandoned the story and moved on, without acknowledging the role they played in whipping up a clearly false panic in the first place.

For those who aren’t addicted to the 24-hour news cycle, this is all probably not a surprise. Anyone with a basic understanding of economics knows that drug dealers are in the business of making money. They’d have little interest in giving away thousands of dollars of free product just to kill innocent children. But this obvious fact did not stop law enforcement officials, Republican politicians, and credulous TV news reporters from fueling a months-long media obsession with “fentanyl-laced Halloween candy” anyway.

Drug-panic narratives always benefit cops and tough-on-crime politicians, which is why these groups always capitalize on crazes like this. You can’t defund the police or boot Republicans from office if they’re the only ones protecting your kids from fent-laced Gobstoppers, after all. And the messengers likely knew just how easy it would be to pull one over on the public, considering the media and average Americans’ willingness to believe almost anything about fentanyl—including that cops all over the country have overdosed simply by touching the drug, which is effectively impossible.

The candy panic began earlier this year when an August 30 press release from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) claimed the agency had intercepted rainbow-colored fentanyl in 26 states. The agency said the drugs had ostensibly been trafficked into the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels in “a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults.”

Given that the alleged pills seemed to be flooding American streets just ahead of October, local cops and TV news reporters smelled a perfect opportunity to create a sensational “news” story about evil drug dealers and foreign boogeymen fomenting chaos and societal destruction by giving out free opioids to kids on Halloween. On Oct. 6, a group of U.S. Senate Republicans released a pre-Halloween PSA using the issue to score cheap political points.

“The powerful drug cartels are coming after your kids, your neighbors, your students, your family members, and your friends,” Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said in the clip.

With elected officials giving an additional air of credulity to the story, local media dug in. “‘Rainbow Fentanyl’ – Warning parents about the dangers of a new form of drug for Halloween,” yowled one headline from WTHI-TV10 in Terre Haute, Indiana. In the piece, Indiana State Police Sergeant Matt Ames said that—even though they had received no reports of rainbow fentanyl—parents should still be afraid.

“Make sure that you’re going to houses that you know, make sure that the lights are on, and make sure that after you’re done the trick or treating that the parents actually go through the candy with the child,” he said.

More depressingly, WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida encouraged concerned parents to only let their children trick or treat directly at police stations.

“If you still have concerns, a number of community organizations and law enforcement agencies hold ‘Trunk Or Treat’ events on site,” the station said, before noting that the Martin County Sheriff’s Office in South Florida was hosting such an event.

The panic further kicked into overdrive on Oct. 19, after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that authorities had intercepted someone trying to smuggle teal-colored fentanyl pills in candy boxes at Los Angeles International Airport. The LASD’s press release then warned that the drugs could wind up in children’s bags at the end of the month.

“If you find anything in candy boxes that you believe might be narcotics, do not touch it and immediately notify your local law enforcement agency,” the department warned.

And, like all moral panics, Fox News fanned the flames at every opportunity, trotting out “experts” to spread misinformation about fentanyl, blame the nonexistent crisis on President Joe Biden, and even suggest that parents ban their kids from trick-or-treating. Most of this coverage contradicted the network’s own reporting on October 11 rightly explaining that this entire narrative was completely unfounded.

As Halloween approached, numerous media outlets tried to quell the fear to no avail. Even the DEA—arguably the progenitor of the entire panic—attempted to tamp down the alarm they had unleashed. At an October 27 press conference in front of Pasadena City Hall in Los Angeles County, the DEA’s local Special Agent In-Charge, Bill Bodner, told the press that drug dealers were not simply giving out free opioids for no reason. Instead, he said, the drugs just might accidentally wind up in kids’ bags.

“So a bag of Skittles that contains fentanyl pills goes into a drug dealer’s home and there happens to be kids in that home,” he said. “It’s Halloween time and maybe that child then takes that bag and takes it to school with them and that’s where we have the danger of fentanyl in my mind.”

But the phony “rainbow fentanyl” narrative gained so much traction that there were sure to be sightings. On Halloween, a hoax spread on social-media that multiple children had died in Buffalo, New York, from laced candy. The Buffalo Police Department announced this morning that the news was false and that the department had “no reports of incidents at this time.”

Later in the day, the Byesville Police Department in Ohio announced on social media that a parent had turned in a suspicious candy bar that allegedly had a pinhole-sized prick in the wrapper. A field test on the bar came back positive for both methamphetamine and fentanyl, according to the department. But when the cops ran a test on a candy bar they purchased from a local gas station as a control, it also came back positive for the same drugs. This strongly suggests the test itself was faulty, which would make sense, as police field-tests are notoriously inaccurate and regularly produce false positives.

So, what have we learned here as a society? Probably nothing at all, sadly. There’s no time to sit back and reflect—Christmas won’t come if Santa’s elves all die from touching fentanyl.

Support The Appeal

If you valued this article, please help us produce more journalism like this by making a contribution today. From now until Dec. 31, every dollar you donate will be tripled as part of NewsMatch.