Toke or treat: Another Halloween, another erroneous wave of panic over drug-laced candies

Every year, fears of poisoned Halloween candy emerge – but there's no evidence of anything to worry about


Phillip Smith
October 30, 2015 1:09AM (UTC)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Halloween is just around the corner, and that means it's time for the annual unsubstantiated freak-out about twisted druggies dropping dope in little kids' trick-or-treat bags. Never mind that there's no evidence of such things happening (and no one questions why drug users would give away valuable drugs to strangers), just be afraid, very afraid. The cops are.

"If your kids get these for Halloween candy, they ARE NOT CANDY!!!" the Jackson, Mississippi, Police Department warned on Facebook below a photo of MDMA (ecstasy) tablets shaped like skulls, dominos, and the Nintendo logo. "These are the new shapes of 'Ecstasy' and can kill kids through overdoses!!!"

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Ohio cops quickly got on the bandwagon, telling CBS Cleveland affiliate WOIO that giving ecstasy to trick-or-treaters would be bad news.

"They'd be in the emergency room without a doubt. The ecstasy, amongst other things, it causes you to grind your teeth and you hallucinate. That would be extremely frightening for the child, the parents as well," Capt. Guy Turner of the Westlake, Ohio, police told the station.

The tablets pictured in the photo are indeed ecstasy tablets and ecstasy can kill, but there are no reported cases of any Halloween trick-or-treaters being given ecstasy, let alone dying from it.

The rumor-debunking website Snopes.com has addressed the Halloween ecstasy threat:

The "ecstasy in Halloween candy" warning looked to be a variant of age-old rumors about poison (and other dangerous substances) being randomly handed out to children in trick-or-treat loot, a persistent but largely baseless fear that's dogged Halloween celebrations for decades. Despite long-held beliefs that Halloween candy tampering is both commonplace and regularly results in harm to children, reports of actual attempts to do so are virtually non-existent (or based on half-truths).

Snopes isn't alone in scoffing at the tainted Halloween candy bogeyman. Joel Best, who is on the criminal justice faculty at the University of Delaware, has been studying the frightening phenomenon of passing contaminated goodies to trick-or-treaters for the past 30 years. He's found that the phenomenon is the fear, not the kiddie poisoning. He's placed a number on the verified reports of kids killed or injured by poisoned candy handed out by strangers: zero.

“It’s a great thing to worry about, because it happens one day a year,” Best said. “People are imagining this terrible person, who lives down the block, is so crazy that he poisons little children at random. But he’s so tightly wrapped that he only does it one day a year.”

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Despite all the fearmongering around Halloween candy, only two deaths in the past 45 years have been linked to poisoned candy. One was a 5-year-old Detroit boy thought to have died from ingesting heroin hidden in his candy in 1970. But the boy actually found the drug in a relative's home, and his familyput heroin in the rest of his candy in an attempt to shift blame.

The other case, from 1974, was an 8-year-old Houston boy who died fromcyanide-laced Pixie Stix. But it was not a deranged neighbor who did it, but the boy's father, who wanted a $20,000 life insurance pay-out. Dear dad was later found guilty and executed.

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If you want to worry about something in your kids' Halloween candy, it's probably more productive to worry about sugar and chocolate than dangerous drugs.


Phillip Smith

Phillip Smith is a senior writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

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