How Candy Snorting Went From a Joke to an Epidemic (Yet Remained a Joke)

KCTV, the CBS affiliate in Kansas City,
that “many children across the nation are now
experimenting with a new and peculiar drug: Smarties.” KCTV is
referring not to prescription stimulants, which sometimes go by
that name, but the tangy, pill-shaped candies in cellophane
wrappers. Legions of tykes all over the country supposedly are
practicing for future cocaine and meth habits by crushing the
candies and snorting the resulting powder up their tiny noses.

How does KCTV know this is happening? Because last week a middle
school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, sent parents an email message
warning them that students had taken up the practice, which
according to unnamed “authorities” cited by KCTV “could lead to
nasal maggots.”

Now you’re talking. Imperiled children, drugs (sort of),
and disgusting symptoms? That’s yellow-journalism

Unfortunately, there are no pictures, possibly because the risk
of nasal maggots is purely speculative, as even USA
, which is not exactly
for skepticism in such matters,

Perhaps the most striking risk mentioned—nasal maggots—is
actually a highly unlikely scenario.

“It’s pretty far out there,” said Laura Orvidas, a pediatric
ear, nose and throat doctor at the Mayo Clinic Children’s

In order for maggots to develop, there must be dead tissue for
the maggots to feed on and then there must be the “random fly” that
lays eggs in there, Orvidas said.

Orvidas said she has seen maggots in a sinus cavity, but it was
not from snorting Smarties.

Despite the long shot of getting maggots, “maybe it’ll scare the
kids to quit doing it,” Orvidas said.

The more likely health problems associated with snorting the
candy is getting the powder into the lungs, leading to an asthma
attack or long-term breathing problems, she said.

What exactly is the appeal? “Officials say children have been
snorting candy to imitate cocaine users seen on TV and the movies,”
KCTV reports. It quotes a panicky Portsmouth parent: “Where do they
get these ideas? You know, can they harm themselves?  You
know, what will it lead to? They are all concerns, obviously.”

Obviously. Stories about kids snorting crushed Smarties (and
powder from Pixy Stix) have been circulating for years. Fittingly,
the first reference to the practice turned up by a Nexis search was
in the context of anti-drug propaganda. In November 2007 the
St. Petersburg Times carried this item:

Don’t do drugs. It’s a popular message in schools. But two
students at Waynesburg (Pa.) Central High School have learned that
it’s also best to not do crushed up Smarties while making
a video against drug use.

Zachary Schloemer and John DiBuono were making the antidrug
video as part of a TV workshop when they decided to dramatize
the snorting of cocaine by crushing up the candy into
powder. But that’s against school rules, too, because look-alike
drugs are as bad as the real thing, and the students were slapped
with 10-day suspensions. DiBuouno, a 4.0 student, also must attend
drug counseling. “The only words said in the entire public service
announcement was, ‘Don’t do drugs,’ and now I’m being sent to
rehabilitation conference,” he said.

A year later, Smarty snorting was featured in a jokey Newark
Star-Ledger lead: “To be a mall Santa Claus takes a
special breed, someone immune to normal human reactions that would
send the average person into a downward spiral of drinking rubbing
alcohol and snorting crushed Smarties.” In March
2009 The Wall Street Journal reported
that students at Summit Middle School in Frisco, Colorado, were
“smoking” Smarties, a practice it described this way:

The children didn’t light the candy. They crushed it into a fine
powder in its wrapper, tore off one end, poured the powder into
their mouths and blew out fine Smarties dust, mimicking a smoker’s

“It was freaky,” says Corinne McGrew, a nurse for Summit School
District. “My biggest concern was that they would aspirate the
wrapper or a whole Smarties and it would be a choking hazard.”

The Journal story seems to be the first one that
mentioned maggots:

Oren Friedman, a Mayo Clinic nose specialist, cautioned that
frequent use could lead to infections or even worse, albeit rare,
conditions, such as maggots that feed on sugary dust wedged inside
the nose.

A February 2010 story in The Oregonian, reporting
on a Smarty ban at Brown Middle School in
Hillsboro, noted Friedman’s maggot warning but
treated it skeptically. When the paper asked pediatric
pulmonologist Holger Link about the possibility, he laughed. “I
think that was a joke,” he said. Link “researched medical case
reports and found no record of harmful reactions
from Smarties.”

Those reports were followed by cautionary stories from the
Brimingham News (“Smoking Smarties Not Too Smart,”
December 25, 2011), the Associated Press (“Educators Worried by
Trend of Snorting Candy,” December 26, 2011), the Easton,
Pennsylvania, Express-Times (“Candy Going Up
Kids’ Noses, Principal Warns,” March 23, 2013), the Lihue, Hawaii,
Garden Island (“Not Wise to Smoke Smarties,”
September 2, 2013), and UPI (“9-Year-Old Suspended for Snorting
Smarties Candy Powder,” November 21, 2013). Then came last week’s
email warning from Portsmouth Middle School, which inspired stories
on local TV stations in Providence, St. Louis, Richmond, Denver,
Columbus, Kansas City, and Charleston, South Carolina, among
other places. All of them treated the memo as evidence of a trend.
But whereas the earlier stories described kids exhaling candy
powder to simulate smoking, the recent ones claim kids are
mimicking cocaine snorters. 

Unlike candy-flavored meth, Smarties really do exist, and kids
really have been known to crush them and inhale the powder from
time to time. It seems like a few incidents (or rumors of
incidents) were enough to inspire
warnings and bans at various schools, which in turn reinforced the
impression of a candy-snorting epidemic sweeping the nation. The

YouTube videos
did not help.

According to a Portsmouth Middle School parent quoted by KCTV,
kids at the school “laugh about it. They say that they’ve heard of
kids doing it, but they don’t imply that it’s a big problem or that
it’s something that a lot of people do.” Those kids will never make
it in journalism.

from Hit & Run

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