While October is a spooky, and scary time of the year — finding razor blades, drugs or other criminal paraphernalia in a child’s candy bag is an outright myth. Understandably, reading this statement might elicit memories from childhood regarding razor blades in candy apples and treats laced with THC/marijuana. However, these tales were simply that — tales. People have become paranoid towards a seemingly wholesome tradition involving children and candy. The answer lies in Halloween sadism. Halloween sadism can be viewed as an urban legend, which emerged during the early 1970s, to give expression to growing fears about the safety of children, the danger of crime and other sources of social strain.
Many misconceptions parents hold regarding Halloween safety are rooted in truth. The real cases that fed the drugged candy paranoia, however, were either unrelated to Halloween or were not committed by strangers. The Tylenol murders are a chilling case that involves a similar theme of tainted consumer goods depicted by Joel Best in his exploration of Halloween sadism. A familiar over the counter medication, regarded as a staple in medicine cabinets across the United States, became an aberrant and frightening thing. This case, while unrelated to Halloween, was blasted by the media in an effort to warn families of any tampered medications lurking in their homes during the end of September 1982. It wasn’t unexpected that this news would bleed over into October and create hyper awareness of tainted consumer goods. While these cases should be taken seriously, it is safe to say the correlation between them and a child’s Halloween goodie bag from three doors down is indiscernible.
Yet, the general fear does predate the Tylenol murders. The New York Times headlined “Those Treats Might be Tricks” back in 1970 stating, “that plump red apple that Junior gets from a kindly old woman down the block, It may have a razor blade hidden inside.” While this feels retroactively like fear mongering, these are messages coming from trusted sources. This year, the Drug Enforcement Administration informed the public, via press conference, that a highly addictive synthetic opioid called “rainbow fentanyl” was circulating amongst the youth.
Rainbow fentanyl is “fentanyl pills and powder that come in a variety of bright colors, shapes and sizes — it is a deliberate effort by drug traffickers to drive addiction amongst kids and young adults,” said DEA Administrator Anne Milgram. This statement reached the public in August followed by a campaign by the DEA in September “one pill can kill,” just in time for a resurgence of that Halloween sadism. The DEA’s efforts to protect children from street drugs is noble, but to assume the target audience is children seems somewhat unfounded when the fear of tainted candy doesn’t lie in children buying these drugs, but strangers handing them out for free. This also begs the question as to who is afraid of their children being drugged and whether that audience understands the price of drugs in general.
Joel Best, in all his research, never found a case in which a child had become sick or died due to Halloween candy. He found that all cases involving such a story were later to be revealed as a hoax or were recanted. One prominent such story being a pair of 2015 kids who allegedly found needles in their candy bars after being shown a similar picture by a relative cautioning them of tampered Halloween candy. This prompted a 31 year old man in New Jersey to post his own needle ridden candy later, only for both of these cases to be proven false not even days later. The Chester County DA’s office said the unidentified families “apologized for the incident, understanding the serious impact it had on the community.”
While it is encouraged to practice safety among children during Halloween, there is no need to fear packaged candies. Instead, focus on children’s safety as they trick or treat on busy streets. The Today network recommends reflective tape on their costumes and bags, sticking to the sidewalks and ensuring they have buddies as well as supervision when they go door to door. All of this ensures that children will have a fun and safe Halloween. In this case, drugs are not the problem people need to focus on.