CLAIM: A photo shows cereal boxes filled with fentanyl that were recently seized by law enforcement officials in San Bernardino County, California.
THE FACTS: The county sheriff's department said the photo, from a drug bust earlier this year, shows pills suspected of being MDMA, not fentanyl.
With Halloween around the corner, social media users have been sharing warnings about the possibility of potentially deadly drugs showing up in otherwise innocuous children's treats. The latest warning includes a photo of two cereal boxes — one Lucky Charms, the other Trix — and their contents. The widely-circulating image purportedly shows pink-colored pills mixed in with the colorful cereal pieces. "This was seized in San Bernardino County today. It's Fentanyl mixed with cereal," wrote one Instagram user in a post that was shared more than 25,000 times before being taken down. "PLEASE SHARE AS HALLOWEEN GETS CLOSER SAVE A LIFE!!!!," wrote another Instagram user.
However, the photograph doesn't show fentanyl in the cereal, but likely another less lethal recreational drug: MDMA, often referred to as ecstasy or Molly, according to Mara Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. She added that lab tests have not yet been completed on the substance. The photo comes from a joint investigation this summer by the sheriff's office and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that involved drugs being distributed through the mail, Rodriguez said.
The agency stressed the incident doesn't raise broader concerns about illegal drugs infiltrating the nation's food supply. "This is an isolated incident with individual packages, not a mass-produced or commercial/retail distribution system," the sheriff's department said in an emailed statement. The use of cereal to conceal the drugs is most likely a smuggling technique, "not a sinister attempt" to market illegal drugs to a younger demographic, says Ryan Marino, an addiction medicine specialist at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio. "The drug trade is a business and nobody is giving away expensive products for free," he said. "It wouldn't make any logical sense."
The claims come shortly after California authorities seized 12,000 suspected fentanyl pills hidden in candy boxes at Los Angeles International Airport last week. The county sheriff's department said the suspected trafficker tried to go through security screening with packages of Sweet Tarts, Skittles and Whoppers filled with the drug. The DEA also warned the public in an Aug. 30 news release about the increased presence of candy-colored "rainbow fentanyl," which it billed as a tactic by drug cartels to sell the highly addictive and potentially deadly opioids to younger users.
Still, as trick-or-treat season approaches, the DEA says its so far found "no indication there is a connection" between fentanyl and Halloween, said Nicole Nishida, a DEA spokesperson in the Los Angeles field office. "Traditionally, drug traffickers use different concealment methods to try and evade law enforcement detection," she wrote in an email. "We have seen fentanyl pills and other drugs hidden in fire extinguishers, fish tanks, candy boxes, everyday household items, pallets, and even concrete blocks."
— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.