Fact Check

Are Drug-Laced Suckers Being Handed Out to Children?

It appears a valid report about drugs confiscated by the police fell into the hands of someone with an active imagination.

Published Oct 19, 2004

large group of red lollipos placed in a pattern where a green lollipop is standing out from the crowd (Getty Images, stock)
large group of red lollipos placed in a pattern where a green lollipop is standing out from the crowd (Image Via Getty Images, stock)
Drug-laced suckers are being handed out to children in Arkansas.
What's True

Law enforcement has found lollipops that contain drugs.

What's False

Someone is handing out drug-laced suckers to school children.

In mid-October 2004 this warning came to our inbox scant weeks before Halloween:

North Little Rock Police Department put out a warning. Someone is giving middle school & high school kids suckers that look like: Maple Leafs; Pumpkins & Santa Claus that are laced with three different TYPES

The Police station received a tip from the Memphis, TN police. Some arrest in Memphis have been made. These suckers have turned up in Blytheville. Officials' fears that these suckers will begin to show up throughout the state.

If you have children, or know someone with children, PLEASE inform them of this possible threat to our children.

At first blush, it looked like a standard expression of parental anxiety typical to a season centered on children taking candy from supposedly altruistic strangers: worry about the safety of one's own trick-or-treaters was finding voice in the form of a rumor about villains handing out drug-laced suckers to kids. Yet, while baseless concern over a crime that isn't happening is certainly part of this hearsay about lollipops, it is not the all of it.

This rumor is a bit of an odd duck to classify in that while the lollipop-profferring knaves pressing their drug-laced confections onto unsuspecting children in hopes of corrupting the tots are naught but fanciful imaginings, the candies as described in the alert are real. It appears that a valid report about drugs confiscated by the police has fallen into the hands of someone whose imagination added the bit about the lollipop-disguised hallucinogens being given to children.

The e-mailed warning makes it appear the information has come from the North Little Rock Police Department, which was not the case. That branch of law enforcement has made it abundantly clear that it had nothing to do with the matter.

On 11 October 2004, the North Little Rock Police Department posted this denial on its web site:

The North Little Rock Police Department has been falsely mentioned in a circulating email about tainted Halloween candy.

The North Little Rock Police Department has been the subject of a recent email making false claims about "hallucinogenic suckers" that supposedly originated from Memphis, TN. These suckers are described in the email as being tainted and strong enough to kill a child.



We are investigating the origins of this email in order to determine if any of this information is based on fact.

Likewise, police in Blytheville have disavowed the claim of the adulterated suckers having turned up there. "We have gotten several phone calls about the e-mailed information," said Royce Carpenter, that town's Police Chief. "But there have been none of these suckers found in Blytheville." Similarly, the Memphis Police Department denied any such lollipops having being found by them or their having made arrests on such cases.

Okay, so these sinister pops haven't been found in Blytheville, and there haven't been any lollipop-associated arrests in Memphis. There have also not been any reports of children in Arkansas being given suspect lollys. Those parts of the rumor are pure embroidery.

However, while the candies have not shown up in Arkansas, they do indeed exist. While there aren't diabolical types lurking in anticipation of pressing them into the eager hands of treat-seeking tots, there are drug dealers selling them to customers. And there have been lollipop-related arrests in the parts of the nation where the candies have been found.

The information that forms the basis of the e-mailed alert about pharmaceutical-laced suckers came from a June 2004 Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) publication. The article in question detailed a number of drug finds around the country, including the discovery in


Philadelphia of large electronic capacitors loaded with heroin, and in Nogales, Arizona, of fire extinguishers packed with cocaine. Getting illegal drugs past U.S. Customs by disguising them as innocuous items is business as usual in the drug trade. Although the more typical method is to conceal outlawed pharmaceuticals inside hollow items, sometimes what is being smuggled is incorporated into foodstuffs.

The lollipops reported on by the DEA were the maple leaf and Santa head of the e-mailed caution. According to that agency, each of these bonbons weighed approximately 10 grams and were green, red, or amber in color. One cache of the candies had been confiscated by the Chicago Police in early January 2004 and another in March. These THC- and PCP-enhanced sweets known as "dro pops" were being sold in that city for $10 to $30 each. There were no reports of any unsuspecting parties having been made ill by the disguised drugs, let alone of any children harmed by them. (THC is the main substance in marijuana. PCP, which also goes by the name "angel dust," is known for inducing violent behavior in those who take it.)


We noted earlier the Memphis Police Department denied having found such lollipops. Yet there is a Memphis connection with this rumor, because in March 2004 Captain Bill Rasco with the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department said of the corrupted sweets, "These are going around the schools now. These things are dangerous." Rasco was commenting on the finds in Chicago (none of the suckers had turned up in DeSoto schools), but his remarks appeared in the Commercial Appeal, the major newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. That article also contained something very much in line with the e-mail's "Officials' fears that these suckers will begin to show up throughout the state" — it said of the pops, "The department believes they may be here in the next few days or weeks" (which, as it turned out, was not the case).

Also in the DEA article about disguised drug finds was a report of heroin-filled lollipops being seized at LaGuardia airport. In the accompanying photograph of three of the sweets broken open to reveal the brown powder stashed therein, one of the confiscated candies appeared vibrantly orange-colored, which, along with its round shape, could make it the unaccounted-for "pumpkin" style of lollipop talked about in the warning e-mail. If so, it would bring the number of drugs up to the online alert's three (THC, PCP, and heroin).

As to why anyone would think to fashion drugs into the form of suckers for any intent other than tricking youngsters into getting high and possibly hooked, we can quickly think of three valid reasons, none of which have anything to do with luring children down the primrose path to their destruction. First, those looking to import illegal substances have a better likelihood of success if their wares can pass for something other than contraband. By concealing the drugs inside candy shells (as was the case with the LaGuardia haul), there is a far greater possibility of getting them past Customs and DEA personnel. In such instances, the lollipops are no more than temporary containers meant to be smashed open and discarded once they've served their purpose of hoodwinking those attempting to safeguard the borders.

Second, a great many drug users are young adults who delight in fanciful shapes and markings on their drugs, possibly in appreciation of the whimsy of it all. Ecstasy tablets stamped with the likenesses of cartoon characters are routinely turned up by law enforcement. Though less common now, in the 1970s blotter sheets of LSD were also printed with cartoon characters (a circumstance that sparked a long-lived rumor about children tricked into applying drug-saturated rub-on "tattoos" to themselves). The THC and PCP Santas and maple leaves would market well among such a clientele, a fact that would not be lost on those who make it their business to vend illegal feel-goods.

Third, having the ability to ingest illegal pharmaceuticals in a surreptitious manner would hold great appeal to many who use recreational drugs. Those drawn to the drug culture find at least some of its allure lies in the sense of using being a forbidden activity; by indulging in illegal substances and by so doing breaking one of Society's taboos, they come to view themselves as living daring, exciting lives in which the normal rules do not apply. For such, the ability to suck on a candy that was getting them high while having a conversation with the boss or a parent would be almost beyond price. The sense of having gotten away with something would add that little extra spice to the experience, further underscoring their self-concept of being counter-culture darlings.

So, are there drug-infused lollipops? Yes, there have been, but the last ones were seen in Chicago in March 2004. Have youngsters innocent of any desire to get high been plied with these suckers by the ill-intentioned? There are no reports of this, not so much as one recorded instance. Given the span of time since these pops last surfaced and the lack of child-related incidents, we think this warning hardly the stuff of "If you have children, or know someone with children, PLEASE inform them of this possible threat to our children."


Barron, Linda.   "Drugged Suckers Not Found Here."     Blytheville Courier News.   12 October 2004   (Local News).

Burnham, Maria.   "Loaded Lollipops Pack Hallucinogens."     The [Memphis] Commercial Appeal.   20 February 2004   (p. DS2).

Mendieta, Ana.   "Police Warn Parents of Drug-Laced Candy."     Chicago Sun-Times.   31 January 2004   (p. 2).

Mendieta, Ana.   "Police Find More Drugs Disguised as Lollipops."     Chicago Sun-Times.   3 March 2004   (p. 24).

DEA.   "Intelligence Alert: Lollipops Containing Tetrahydrocannabinol and Phencyclidine in Chicago, Illinois."     Microgram Bulletin.   June 2004   (pp. 107-108, 110).

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