The latest Halloween candy panic turned out to be just as much of a hoax as every other year's iteration. In spite of breathless news reports about "rainbow fentanyl" and a strange story about someone trying to pass opioids through airport security in a candy box, there have been zero reports of children receiving dangerous painkillers in their pillowcases over Halloween weekend.
This year's panic was kickstarted from a source who should know better: the DEA. In a press release at the end of August, the nation's top drug cops warned of brightly colored fentanyl pills. Credulous news organizations ran with the story, stoking a fear that powerful narcotics would be nestled in between tiny boxes of Nerds and bite-sized chocolate bars in children's Halloween hauls.
That fire got more fuel when the Mr. Bean of the drug trafficking world attempted to pass hundreds of fentanyl pills through airport security at LAX in Whoppers boxes. Though the would-be pillpusher was stopped and the fentanyl found, he managed to escape security through methods that are still extremely unclear.
The fentanyl in Halloween candy panic is merely the latest take on two time-honored traditions in American law enforcement: overstating the danger of a drug to the general public and pretending your neighbors are out to poison your children. Both of these create a culture of fear that is used to justify endlessly ballooning police budgets even as crime rates are decreasing. The data on crime doesn't matter if the average person feels unsafe. And the people we have entrusted with maintaining public safety have a vested interest in telling you the world outside your door is more frightening than it actually is.
The idea that strangers are putting something in your kid's candy resurfaces literally every year, with a regular boost from law enforcement. The fentanyl panic writ large is a newer phenomenon, that is no less fueled by police and news organizations that parrot their press releases. Stories proliferated throughout the country about police overdosing merely from being in the presence of fentanyl. The hype made its way to Orlando when Orange County deputies donned hazmat gear and administered the overdose-fighting drug Narcan on themselves when they believed they were exposed to fentanyl.
It's been repeatedly disproven that overdoses can be caused by ambient fentanyl. To overdose on this opioid, like nearly all drugs, you have to take it. The police Narcan-ing themselves because they feel bad after being around alleged fentanyl are likely overheated or having panic attacks. A person overdosing on opioids can not administer Narcan on themselves, as one of the key indicators of an opioid overdose is being unresponsive and unconscious.
We can't blame news readers for buying the bill of goods. The opioid epidemic in America is very real. It was caused, by and large, by the pharmaceutical industry lying about the harmful and addictive effects of prescription painkillers. These lies were then passed on by doctors all too willing to take pharma companies money in exchange for becoming spigots of highly addictive pills. 80% of heroin users started down their path with the use of prescription painkillers, which flooded the United States over the last several decades. Our healthcare system and economic system so throughly fails the long-term disabled and chronic pain sufferers that illicit drug use is a reasonable outcome.
The danger of fentanyl is its propensity to end up in other drugs and its extreme strength. Small amounts of fentanyl can kill and an addict who believes themselves to be taking another drug can easily overdose. Spreading lies about the drug can only lead to delayed action in situations where helping a fentanyl user can save their lives.
The continued lies about where the problem came from and who it is coming for only serve to pad the budgets of police agencies who are too busy falling out from psychosomatic overdoses to help the people who live in their communities.