Oct. 31, 2022 -- Although the Drug Enforcement Administration has issued a warning about “rainbow fentanyl,” experts on drugs and crime say it’s unlikely the addictive drug designed to look like brightly colored candy ended up in children’s Halloween trick-or-treat bags.

Joel Best, a University of Delaware professor of sociology and criminal justice, wrote in an opinion piece for CNN that he studied media reports about contaminated treats going back to 1958 . “My principal finding is simple: 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,” Best wrote in a commentary published on CNN.

Fears about rainbow fentanyl have been stoked by politicians playing on parents’ anxieties, Best wrote. He said fentanyl is expensive and drug dealers or drug users wouldn’t give it away when they could sell or use it.

“It is not unreasonable to wonder just what a fentanyl dealer’s overarching goal might be if in passing the drug off as candy,” Best wrote. “The suggestion that a school-age kid would go from accidental user of fentanyl to a paying addict is far-fetched.”

Best said stories about contaminated treats – such as razor blades in apples – have been around for decades and are best understood as contemporary or urban legends.  

David Herzberg, a history professor at the University of Buffalo who studies the history of drug abuse in America, told USA Today that it would be a "colossally stupid business move" for drug dealers to give fentanyl to children.

"Distributing your product for free to a bunch of children, who will die, causes the authorities to come after you like no one has ever seen before, to the benefit of your competitors," Herzberg said. "The whole thing is just absolutely ludicrous."

 While not mentioning Halloween, the DEA put out a warning in September about “rainbow fentanyl.”

“Rainbow fentanyl—fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes, and sizes—is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a news release

 “The men and women of the DEA are relentlessly working to stop the trafficking of rainbow fentanyl and defeat the Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the vast majority of the fentanyl that is being trafficked in the United States.”

Show Sources

CNN: “Is the threat of ‘rainbow fentanyl’ candy just another scary Halloween rumor?”

University of Delaware Library, Museums and Press: “Halloween Sadism: The Evidence”

USA Today: "Rainbow fentanyl passed out on Halloween? Why experts say that's 'absolutely ludicrous.'”

DEA: “DEA Warns of Brightly-Colored Fentanyl Used to Target Young Americans”

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