How Prevalent Is Drug-Laced Halloween Candy, Really?

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews

Razor blades in apples, poison in caramel coating, and drug-infused candy: it seems as though each year brings a new culinary threat to unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.

This year police departments have become exceptionally profuse in their warnings to parents to be on the lookout for marijuana infused candy, partially because of the drug’s legalization in several U.S. states.

The fear comes from the popularity of manufactured THC treats like pot-lollipops and from the private practice of adding THC to common candies like gummy bears. As there is no way to tell the difference between drugged and regular unpackaged candy by sight alone, police are warning parents not to allow their children any candy not in its original wrappers and, furthermore, to inspect even that candy thoroughly.

The media and police departments have been issuing similar warnings for decades, which begs the question: how prevalent is drug-laced Halloween candy, really?

No Evidence

Despite the popularity of such warnings, there has never been any reported cases of kids ingesting drug-laced — THC or otherwise — Halloween candies.

In fact, there is no proof to back up the decades of similar fears. While every child death on Halloween seems to be immediately attributed to poisoned or drug-laced candy, only two deaths have ever been remotely connected to such causes.

The first case took place in 1970, when five-year-old Kevin Toston died after supposedly eating heroin-laced candy. As it turns out, young Kevin had in fact stumbled upon — and ingested — some of his uncle’s heroin stash, and the family had added heroin to the candy after the fact in an attempt to hide the real source of the lethal dose.

The second case, the 1974 death of eight-year-old Timothy O’Bryan, also initially appeared to result from candy that had been laced by a stranger. In this case, the cause of death really was due to poisoned candy: cyanide infused Pixie Stix. However, upon investigation, police discovered that Timothy’s father had purposefully poisoned his son to receive the benefits of the child’s life insurance policy. Moreover, the father had endangered several other children, as he had slipped poisoned candy into their bags as well in an attempt to throw off suspicion.

So, despite prevailing urban legends, it appears the only drug-related Halloween candy dangers have been the result of a malicious or negligent family member, not a mischievous or malevolent stranger.

No Motive

What makes the THC candy claims all the more ridiculous is that there is no believable motive for such a trick.

Although increased marijuana production in the U.S. means weed is relatively cheap and easy to acquire, it’s still a costly prank to play. Most marijuana purchasers do so for their own recreational use, or to sell to other adults. Why would they pay good money for pot and then give it away to children on the off chance it will be ingested and bring about a little mayhem?

War on Drugs and Headline Sales

As cynical as it may sound, the media and the war on drugs are the only entities that appear to benefit from these yearly scare tactics.

Poisoned Halloween candy makes for sensational headlines, driving concerned parents to stay glued to the nightly news, online news feed, or printed media for minute by minute update. News outlets enjoy a surefire hot topic, with very little need for actual research or journalistic integrity. Simply the imagined possibility of the threat is enough to sell the story year after year.

As for the war on drugs, children are among the most sympathetic victims. What better way to recruit parents and other adults to the war on drugs than to suggest that their innocent children may fall ill or die on what should be a fun holiday?

Such warnings will always have roots because they stem from a few related truths: drugs can – and often do – cause harm, and not everyone has your child’s best interest in mind. As such, parents should exercise reasonable caution whenever children are out in public or are offered food by strangers, not just at Halloween.

However, these scare tactics create their own dangers: unnecessary paranoia on the one hand and boy-who-cried-wolf skepticism on the other.

Practice safe Halloweening tactics this year (stay in a group, go to houses you know, etc.), but be rational about it. 

Image by PublicDomainPictures

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