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What to know before trick-or-treating in Western Washington

Halloween is a fun night for kids, but these days, it can also be a nervous one for parents. From traffic cautions to candy concerns, there is a range of Halloween safety factors to consider.

For starters — candy. And not just because the sugar bombs could create poor lifelong dietary habits. The emergence of rainbow fentanyl has created legitimate concerns and alarmed parents.

In August 2022, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning that the multicolored pills appeared to be a deliberate attempt by traffickers to make the drug attractive to youth. At the time, the DEA had discovered rainbow fentanyl in 26 states. In September 2022, the Pierce County Sheriff's Department warned parents about the brightly colored drug (while rainbow fentanyl had been found in Oregon, there was no indication that it had shown up in Western Washington at the time). That added up to some fears around candy filled Halloween.

RELATED: Why the urban legend of contaminated Halloween candy won't disappear

Dr. Beth Ebel, a pediatrician with UW Medicine, said folks shouldn't worry too much about fentanyl ending up in a child's goodie bag.

"I don't think this is a risk for Halloween and there is no evidence showing that it has been," Dr. Ebel said. "But it is a risk for kids in general, especially kids who are starting to get into a little bit of substance use."

Rainbow fentanyl appears to be the latest Halloween boogieman. Like how razor blades can be hidden in just about anything. Or how someone might poison candy (well, that one actually happened once). Just a few years ago, before there was fentanyl, there were fears about ecstasy pills being handed out on Halloween. In general, urban legends of candy tampering have been with us for a long time.

"I have data going back to 1958, and I have yet to find a report of a child that's been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating," Joel Best, a professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, told NPR recently.

Instead, Dr. Ebel argued that the biggest threat to trick-or-treaters is being hit by a car. A 2019 study in JAMA Pediatrics found children ages 4 to 8 years old are ten times more likely to be killed in a traffic accident while trick-or-treating.

“This is the fundamental issue: Kids getting hit by cars in the dark of night,” Ebel said. “As you're planning costumes, think about ways to add lights to those costumes.”

Dr. Ebel adds that glow sticks are a great option.

"More kids together is always better. People pay attention to that larger group, and they slow down. It's much better than a couple of kids darting across the street. So, make it fun."

Weather is another concern for trick-or-treaters in the Pacific Northwest. For October 2023, the region has experienced a considerable dip into freezing temperatures with frost advisories. Spiderman might have a cool jumpsuit, but maybe consider long johns underneath.

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