Editorials, Opinion

There’s no rainbow fentanyl trick in Halloween treats

Despite what the fearmongers have claimed recently, you really don’t need to be in a panic over marijuana edibles or “rainbow fentanyl” ending up in children’s Halloween candy.

We recently had a story in The Dominion Post discussing the rise of rainbow fentanyl and public service announcements put out by two groups at roughly the same time. After a Monongalia County drug bust where narcotics presumed to be rainbow fentanyl were found, three WVU pharmacy professors put out a PSA. After rainbow fentanyl started making national headlines, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito joined 12 other Republican senators to put out their own PSA.

One of those PSAs was factual and informative. The other was filled with scare tactics.

The announcement from the pharmacy professors discussed the real risk of rainbow fentanyl: It’s not so much disguised as candy as it is as other prescription medications that can come in a variety of shapes and colors.  By disguising fentanyl as other medications — particularly pain and anti-anxiety meds — traffickers make the narcotics easier to smuggle and sell. Otherwise, rainbow fentanyl is the same as any other illegal fentanyl.

The “PSA” —  we use that term loosely because the announcement had less to do with public service than political service — from Capito and her fellow GOP politicians was all about how rainbow fentanyl will end up in kids’ trick-or-treat bags, because drug traffickers are disguising this deadly opioid as candy and trying to serve it to  children.

This myth spiraled out of control when smugglers hid rainbow fentanyl in candy boxes in an attempt to sneak the drugs past airport security in Los Angeles. Obviously, it didn’t work. Fearmongers have run with the story from there, spinning it into a tall tale of terror ahead of Halloween festivities.

Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, told Today that he’s found stories — but not facts — of “Halloween sadism” going back to the 1930s, but the idea of contaminated Halloween candy took hold in the 1960s and hasn’t let go since. But in the data he’s combed going back to 1958, he hasn’t found a single case of a child being killed or injured from trick-or-treat candy.

Elizabeth Scharman, clinical and executive director of the West Virginia Poison Center and a professor of clinical pharmacy, said it in her interview with The Dominion Post, and we’ll reiterate it here: Illegal drugs are expensive, so no one is just going to give them away for free (same for last year’s marijuana edibles panic, too). Plus kids — especially trick-or-treating aged kids — make terrible drug customers.

If there is any danger to “kids” from rainbow fentanyl, it’s likely to be among young adults in their teens or 20s who may think they’re taking a certain pill, only to find out it was one of the disguised opioids instead. According to Scharman, Xanax is the most counterfeited pill to be laced with fentanyl.

There is nothing wrong with checking kids’ Halloween candy and we won’t discourage anyone from doing it. But parents really don’t need to be worried there will be a rainbow fentanyl trick amongst their children’s treats.