As Halloween approaches, officials urge parents to inspect candy for synthetic opioid fentanyl. However, scientists say it is unlikely to happen.
When approximately 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills inside candy boxes were seized at Los Angeles International Airport earlier in October, the LA County Sheriff's Department urged parents to check their children's candy during Halloween.
Florida's Attorney General Ashley Moody also issued a warning saying that "the threat posed to the safety of kids and young adults is very real."
Some politicians echoed these cautions. A group of GOP senators released a video claiming that fentanyl pills start to look like candy "in an effort to lure young Americans."
However, researchers in the drug use field may have different opinions. Dr. Alexandra Collins, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Brown University, says she is not concerned about fentanyl in Halloween candies.
"There is no evidence this is happening. I believe this is a fear-mongering tactic. There is zero evidence that fentanyl in Halloween candies is somehow a pressing concern right now," she said to Healthnews.
In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned about so-called rainbow fentanyl — pills of the drug that come in bright colors. The agency called it "a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults."
Dr. Collins says there is no evidence that sellers are targeting children with fentanyl, and using bright colors is not new.
"Sellers use different food coloring to distinguish their product from other people's products on the streets so that people could identify their product. But it is not at all a way of targeting kids," she said.
Fears of possible harm to children are widespread on social media, too. When an Instagram user shared a photo with what they called fentanyl pills in cereal boxes seized by law enforcement in San Bernardino County, California, the Associated Press fact-checkers soon refuted this claim.
They found that a photo was showing pills suspected of being MDMA, a less dangerous recreational drug, from a drug bust earlier that year.
"Fentanyl Halloween candy is the 2022 version of fear-mongering nonsense of the razor blade Halloween candy of the 1980/90s," tweeted Dr. Christi Smith, a resident senior fellow for Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at non-profit R Street Institute.
While fentanyl is unlikely to be found in Halloween candy, it remains a dangerous drug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that in 2021, synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl, caused 71,238 overdose deaths in the US.
It is not the first time health professionals have widespread claims on fentanyl-associated threats. In August, more than 400 drug experts wrote an open letter to journalists and editors asking to retract misinformation that casual contact with potent synthetic opioids such as fentanyl poses a health risk to first responders.
"Based on our experience reading hundreds of similar news articles, we recognize that a reliance on reports from law enforcement officials, rather than medical experts in toxicology, often contributes to the spread of incorrect information," the letter says.