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Media, Public Officials Exaggerate Rainbow Fentanyl Halloween Threat

As Halloween approaches, a scary new threat seems to be looming: "rainbow fentanyl," a multicolored, candy-size version of the addictive and potentially deadly synthetic opioid. In urgent news reports, law enforcement and elected officials have warned of the dangers the drug poses to children. “We’re coming into Halloween. Every mom is worried right now, ‘What if this gets into my kid’s Halloween basket,’ ” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel on Fox News, which has pushed the story, reports the Washington Post. Senators from both sides of the aisle have expressed similar concerns, as has the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, where Administrator Anne Milgram called rainbow fentanyl “a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction among kids and young adults.”


The link between children and rainbow fentanyl — which differs only in color and packaging from other fentanyl-based street drugs — appears to be theoretical. Its association with Halloween may be specious, part of a tradition of urban myths about poisoned treats such as razor blades in apples and cannabis-infused gummy bears, said Joel Best, a University of Delaware professor who studies contemporary legends. Best has yet to find a confirmed incident of a child being seriously injured or killed from contaminated trick-or-treat candy since he began compiling data in the mid-1980s. “Rainbow fentanyl” didn’t take off as a media phenomenon until DEA issued a news release with Milgram’s comment Aug. 30. Since then, news coverage has exploded, with nearly 1,400 print and broadcast stories. It’s not clear how many children have been harmed by rainbow fentanyl. An America’s Poison Centers database composed of reporting from the nation’s 55 poison-control centers has recorded 70 cases so far this year in which someone under 18 unintentionally ingested nonprescription fentanyl, 60 of which involved children two or younger. The database doesn’t record fentanyl poisonings by type, so it’s not known how many came from rainbow fentanyl. A search of news reports since the drug was first mentioned in mid-August turns up only one suspected accidental case of rainbow fentanyl ingestion, this one involving a 2-year-old.

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