Poisoned Halloween Candy - True or False?

Poisoned Halloween Candy - True or False?


The urban legend “never take candy from strangers,”  has been passed on for decades.  Oddly, there are hardly any cases of poisoned candy.  However, in 1974 there was a case of a boy dying from a cyanide-laced Pixy Stix while trick or treating.  However, in this instance it was not a case of stranger danger, it was the young boy’s father, Ronald O’Brien that intentionally tried to kill both his children after taking an insurance policy out on his kids.  O’Brien was convicted and executed for murdering his son, thankfully he failed at killing his daughter as well.

An incident like this can impact a community and a generation.  This occurred when I was a child. I can remember my parents referring to this case year after year.   I can recall my parents telling me they needed to inspect my candy because it could be ‘laced with cyanide.’  In fact, we were never allowed to have many types of candy because my parents could not detect poison in non-chocolate candy.  Now that I am a parent, I really have no clue how I would even go about investigating my kid’s candy for cyanide.  Although I dump most of my kid's candy; I do not worry about poisoned candy.  I fear the stomach aches, the bouncing off the walls, the cavities and the constipation that follows way too much candy consumption.

The news seems to do a story on poison candy each year, but they are actually unfounded (snopes.com has a timeline on this topic).  The sensationalistic headline is often influenced by another story of 7 Chicagoland people who died from poisoned Tylenol in the 1980s.  Additionally, there are many incidences that have occurred around or on Halloween of children dying of a drug overdose. In many cases, kids have essentially taken their parents heroin and mistaken it for candy.  Once again debunking the myth that poisoned Halloween candy should be a valid concern.  


The incidence of needles and razor blades in trick-or-treater’s candy is a more realistic concern.  Although this is rare, there have been 80 cases since 1959, but most of these have been hoaxes.  Many of the verified cases were actually sadistic jokes being played by friends and relatives.  Certainly not my kind of humor, but I feel comforted knowing it is NOT epidemic or a cohort of strangers that secretly wish to harm children.  I do feel better knowing these efforts were lead by really, unbelievably stupid people. 

Although I have little concerns about poisonous candy, I have been known to possess a natural set of nerves that surround my kid's trick-or-treating that are completely unfounded.  In fact, the more I think about it - I realize that I have nothing to actually worry about.  Here is why:

  • I go with my kids when they trick or treat.
  • I go with other adults when I trick or treat and we manage crossing the street as a group very well.
  • I do not let my kids eat any candy while trick-or-treating.
  • We go to houses that we are familiar with.
  • I sort through the candy once it is home and give each kid a ziploc that holds about 15 pieces of candy they deem as “keepers.”  Then, I donate the rest of the candy.
  • I do not let my kids hang out with kids that make bad decisions or stupid parents.  We all know some.

I would never tell a parent to skip the sorting process of their their kid’s candy.  Better safe than sorry is a great motto to live by for parents.  But after researching this topic, I can tell you not to worry about spiked lollipops, laced smarties, marijuana snickers or needle-ridden twix.  If that does not give you enough comfort, Joel Best, author of Halloween Sadism: The Evidence,  and Professor of Sociology from the University of Delaware has been studying this topic  since 1985.  Best has not been able to find one single case where a child died as a result of candy given  to them by a stranger on Halloween.

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