Eric Adams Says Children ‘Start Off With Their Day Picking Up Cannabis Laced With Fentanyl,’ Despite No Evidence of This Actually Happening
As one expert told us, “It’s never happened once.”
12:30 PM EDT on May 3, 2023
"I can run the country from New York City," Mayor Eric Adams told a Wall Street Journal interviewer on Tuesday. Adams had just been asked about how his politics might translate nationally. He then went on to paint an exceedingly dire portrait of American youth.
"We have to ask ourselves, how are the children?" Adams said. "They start off with their day picking up cannabis laced with fentanyl to sit inside a classroom where we want them to learn."
Fentanyl-laced cannabis is something of a preoccupation for Mayor Adams, who once produced a strange video guide to searching for contraband in a child's bedroom. He has previously invoked the idea when talking about unlicensed pot shops. But are children "picking up cannabis laced with fentanyl" before going to school? Is fentanyl-laced cannabis even a real thing?
No, says Dr. Lewis Nelson, director of the Division of Medical Toxicology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, when Hell Gate asked him to review the mayor's statement. Nelson has spent years educating law enforcement and the public about how fentanyl actually reacts with the human body.
"There is no objective support for this statement, nor does it make pharmacological sense," Nelson wrote Hell Gate in an email. "Despite the assertions of officials, law enforcement, and media, among others, no suspected case has been confirmed to be causally related. In all reported cases, there are numerous other explanations for the findings, such as co-use of the two, or misdiagnosis of substance use altogether. Analytical toxicology testing, meaning testing of the cannabis product, may find trace amounts of fentanyl, but not in amounts that can lead to harm."
This has not stopped law enforcement agencies from issuing press releases about the dangers of fentanyl-laced cannabis, and news organizations uncritically repeating these assertions.
"CT Lab Confirms Marijuana Laced With Fentanyl is a New Public Safety Threat," read one news headline from the fall of 2021, in what would have been the very first confirmed case of fentanyl-laced cannabis nationwide.
But in June of 2022, DEA labs revealed that this wasn't the case. The overdose deaths cited in the initial stories had been misattributed, and when tested, the marijuana had just trace amounts of fentanyl on it, probably from inadvertent contamination.
NBC Connecticut corrected the record with a followup story, but that's unusual.
"Law enforcement looks at something and interprets it through their lens," Nelson said. "But this is not a law enforcement issue. This is a clinical issue."
Earlier this year, the mayor's correction department commissioner, Louis Molina, parroted baseless claims about how fentanyl exposure caused a correction officer to get sick after touching a piece of mail that was allegedly laced with fentanyl, joining an extremely goofy chorus of law enforcement officials who have perpetrated the myth of fentanyl poisoning on contact
Hell Gate asked the Mayor's Office if they could substantiate Adams's claims to the WSJ.
"If the mayor is saying it, he's learning about it through one of his commissioners," spokesperson Fabien Levy wrote in an email.
If the mayor's commissioners are regaling him with anecdotes about fentanyl-laced cannabis, City Hall isn't making them public: "I don't join his private conversations," Levy told Hell Gate.
When we pressed Levy for actual evidence for Adams's alarming claim, he responded with links to single-sourced news stories from South Carolina and California that relied on law enforcement.
In response, Lewis pointed out that those stories aren't actual data. "They're just taking a whole bunch of anecdotes, and they're saying, 'Look, this has happened 1,000 times, it must be true!' But it’s actually not. It's never happened once, you just have 1,000 incorrect examples that don't explain the fact."
Lewis added, "It's really too bad, because we want to rely on our public officials, you know, to tell us the truth."
After Mayor Adams told the WSJ interviewer about his concerns with today's youth, he suggested that it "needs to become a national conversation."
"And if I am going to raise that conversation, I could do it from the largest platform in the country. And that's New York City."
The interviewer responded, "You got the bully pulpit right here."
Thanks for reading!
Register or log in to continue.See all subscription options.
Chris is an editor at Hell Gate. He spent nearly a decade working for Gothamist, and his work appears in New York Magazine and Streetsblog NYC.
Stay in touch
Sign up for our free newsletter
More from Hell Gate
The Testimony of Fatboi Sharif
At a recent show in NYC, the Rahway rapper welcomed an audience to his world.
Get Ready for a Hot No Lifeguard Summer
And other links to start your bummer summer.
Can I Install an AC Unit in My Fire Escape Window?
Yes, if you meet these two conditions.
Flying Squirrels? NYC’s Got ‘Em
And sometimes, they visit your fire escape.
Hell Gate Debates the 2023 Song of the Summer
Fans of dry sherry cocktails and Fleetwood Mac must tune in.