“A better pill to swallow” (Fentanyl candy)

Goblins, gremlins, ghosts, and ghouls cease to be scary in adulthood, so into the Halloween fright vacuum steps a moral panic. Be it razor-laden Snickers, confectionary-distributing pedophiles, or poisoned Pixie Stix, there are imaginary fears that follow some past the teen years. This year features a new twist on the traditional boogeyman of drugged treats. Keeping with the times, Fentanyl has replaced the now-tame marijuana as the culprit.

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel took it upon herself to represent every American mother and said that 100 percent of them are freaking out about their child getting a rainbow-colored Fentanyl. Never one to let a good panic go to waste, the DEA also chimed in, with warnings about an “alarming emerging trend” of drug dealers targeting these pills to our young’uns.

Writing for Snopes, Bethania Palma noted that this update on a time-dishonored tale features plenty to panic over: “A novel version of a dangerous street drug, a threat to children’s safety, and the U.S.-Mexico border, an evergreen source of political flame-throwing.”

Indeed, during her spiel, McDaniel sounded the alarm than in August alone “2,000 pounds of fentanyl came across our border. That could kill 500 million people…and the Democratic Party is ignoring this.”

A measured response would have been to point out that number is more people than live in this country and that there is no evidence these illicit products are making their way from Juarez to elementary school swing sets. Instead, the next day, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced he would seek $290 million in funding to fight this kiddie crisis. For maximum effect, he displayed photos of candy alongside rainbow fentanyl and implored, “Halloween is coming up. This is really worrisome and really dangerous.”

He’s right about people being worried but there is no evidence drug traffickers are planning to give free pills to kids under the guise of candy.

Rolling Stone reporters spoke with harm reduction experts, who confirmed that rainbow-colored fentanyl pills and powders are real. However, they are not being targeting to children, and dealers have no plans for an uptick in marketing and distribution on All Hallows Eve.

Colored pills have been around for decades and their purpose is to allow drug dealers to identify their goods or to make a carbon copy of legitimate pharmaceuticals. Similarly, heroin packets sometimes come with attractive images and cool names, ecstasy is packaged in bright shapes and colors, and LSD tablets often have cartoon characters or stars, smiley faces, and band logos.

“It’s a way to brand your stuff,” explained reporter Reilly Capps in an interview with Reason’s Lenore Skenazy. They may also make the product more attractive, but this can appeal to any age group. Rolling Stone interviewed Mariah Francis, a resource associate with the National Harm Reduction Coalition, and she told the magazine that “the pills in the photos shared by the DEA are all stamped and readily identifiable as pills, making it very hard to believe children are mistaking them for colorful candy.”

Targeting single-digit age children is nonsensical since that demographic has the least amount of disposable income. Moreover, fentanyl is up to 100 times more powerful than standard opioids, and foisting these upon a 7-year-old first-time user would almost certainly be fatal. It’s hard to imagine a worse outreach strategy than an instant killing of your customer base.


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