November 1, 2002

Year after year I see stories warning parents to take great care with their children’s Halloween candy. And it is good advice, I suppose.
But there is another angle to this story, which Youth Today took on, “Have a grown-up inspect your treats,” warns the American Academy of Pediatrics, responding to the most horrific modern Halloween myth of all: spiked candy. The number of kids confirmed to have been critically injured by spiked Halloween candy is … zero.

“I still can’t find any evidence that a kid has ever been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat received while trick-or-treating on Halloween,” says sociologist Joel Best of the University of Delaware, who’s been examining Halloween incidents dating to 1958. At least two other academic researchers have reached similar conclusions.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere of peril that has accumulated around Oct. 31 will compel youth-serving organizations, churches, schools, malls and civic groups throughout the country to host “safe” Halloween events this year, such as a “Haunted Woods” at the YMCA’s Camp Arrowhead in Pittsford, N.Y., a Halloween party at the Holy Cross program for delinquent boys in Detroit, “Boo in the Zoo” in Birmingham, Ala., and countless “haunted houses.”

That is not to say that these are not good events; many parents and youth prefer the organized gatherings, and there are real dangers to trick-or-treating on the streets. (The biggest risk to kids on Halloween is being hit by cars.) Some believe the warnings have made Halloween safer and given youth-serving agencies another way to draw in kids. On the other hand, the holiday may be the most extreme example of American adults’ penchant for scaring kids with “dangerous world” messages, and setting up organized, adult-supervised activities as the only places where kids can be safe.

“These are the safest times in human history,” marvels sociologist Barry Glassner, author of “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things” and a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. “We have local emergency rooms x-raying children’s candy, while 43 million Americans are without health insurance.” How did it get like this?

Note from Al-I do remember a story from years back when I was a reporter where a 24 hour medical clinic was doing free X-ray screens for candy. One technician found some needles in some candy bars. It turned out, the tech had placed the needles in the candy so he could find them and be a hero. Dr. Glassner, in his book also documents a case of some heroin spiked candy, the heroin came from the boy’s uncle. A second case involved some cyanide-poisoned candy given to a child by the child’s father to collect some insurance money.

Halloween Resources

Poynter’s ace librarian and researcher David Shedden has pulled together tons of resources for you. The site includes everything from the history of the holiday to 10 things you can do with a pumpkin.

Little League Baseball’s Strict New Background Checks

The Philly Inquirer reports, “Little League’s baseball season may be months away, but area clubs are scrambling like outfielders to comply with the international group’s strict new mandate requiring sex-offense checks of managers, coaches and even snack-bar volunteers.

“The policy, the toughest yet among youth-sports organizations in the United States, is a response in part to child sex-abuse scandals around the country and to litigation against Little League, which has had nine cases of sex abuse by volunteers since 1988. With sex-offender lists now available for free in 43 states, league officials say they are eager to use that information to protect the 2.7 million youths in their program.”

Nationwide, hometown leagues, while agreeing the scrutiny is needed, are bracing for the time-consuming paperwork — and expense. Leagues in seven states that don’t have sex-offender lists readily available will have to seek criminal-background checks, costing from $5 to $18 each. At $10 per inquiry, Pennsylvania’s leagues, for example, could be facing an additional cost of at least $332,000 before the 2003 season gets under way. The national group suggests the cost could be borne by the volunteers themselves, while some local officials say fees may rise. If a league doesn’t comply, it could lose its charter.

Other sports to follow?

The Philly Inquirer
says, “The Pop Warner Little Scholars, the youth football organization with headquarters in Langhorne, and the U.S. Youth Soccer Association, in Richardson, Texas, strongly recommend, but don’t require, checks. Pop Warner expects to match Little League’s requirements next season.
USA Hockey, based in Colorado Springs, Colo., requires disclosure applications and permission to make background checks but leaves the decision to actually conduct them to the individual states. In the Atlantic District, which includes the Philadelphia area, hockey coaches are checked every two years for sexual or physical abuse.

Some youth sports clubs are worried that pervasive criminal background checks might drive away volunteers.

“‘How far do you go before you lose people?’ asked Neil Davis, president of the Greater Chester Valley Soccer Association in Malvern, which checks some of its coaches. ‘And does this background check give you a false sense of security?’ “

Poor People and Pain Killers

Former journalist Mike Harrison now works with cancer patients, and still regularly reads Al’s Morning Meeting. Today, he sent us this article that he spotted in The Detroit News.

Mike says “This story is an important one that should be told and would be fairly easy to localize. No one should have to suffer in pain regardless of life circumstances.

The newspaper reports, “Relief for chronic pain isn’t available in many poor neighborhoods in southeast Michigan and the nation. The same drugs that reduce suffering of cancer patients are coveted by illicit users for their massive highs, making drug stores targets for break-ins and robberies. Some pharmacists have concluded stocking drugs isn’t worth the risk.

“A Detroit News survey of 200 of the 700 retail pharmacies in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties concluded that filling prescriptions for painkillers is much easier in suburbs than poorer communities. Suburban stores, for instance, are four times as likely to stock OxyContin than pharmacies in poor communities.
The findings underscore national worries about the delivery of health care to the poor, and contradict claims from the industry that pain relief is equally available to all. The News randomly and confidentially surveyed the 200 pharmacies, comparing drug stocks of suburban stores with those in the 10 poorest communities in the tri-counties and found that drug stocks vary substantially.

The News‘ survey mirrors a 2000 study from the New England Journal of Medicine that found just 20 percent of pharmacies in New York’s minority neighborhoods stock medications commonly prescribed for serious, long-term pain.

” ‘Patients who are suffering from pain have become the unintended victims of the war on drugs,’ said Dr. R. Sean Morrison, the author of the study and director of research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute in New York.

“Several nationwide studies have shown that doctors are less likely to prescribe painkillers to the poor and minorities. Reasons vary, but can include racial stereotypes and a lack of education among doctors about the benefits of painkillers, Morrison said.

“But if doctors don’t prescribe the drugs, pharmacists stop stocking them, continuing a cycle that denies relief to the poor, Morrison said.

Mike says journalists can contact Jay ( or Pamela Jackson ( at the Intercultural Cancer Council (ICC) for more information or to access pain sufferers in their area. The phone number at the ICC is (713) 798-4617.

Number of Teens Giving Birth Sharply Declines

Teen birth rates
— which began dropping in the late 1980s — are continuing to plummet for a variety of reasons, including the fear of disease, the impact of welfare reform and a higher disapproval rating of casual sex.

The Christian Science Monitor says, “A recent report found that the teen abortion rate is also dropping — in some cases dramatically. For 15-to 17-year-olds, it dipped 39 percent from 1994 to 2000. For the first time, those numbers confirm that fewer teens are getting pregnant in the first place. That’s a trend that started in the late 1980s and continues today. Teenagers are having less sex, and those that are having it are using contraception more.

” ‘It signals a deep, broad and profound change that’s enormously gratifying,’ says Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. ‘We should give a celebration party for all teens in America to say, “You’re doing the right thing increasingly, so don’t stop!”‘”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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