FAMILY COURT Judge Lori Dumas Brooks wanted to make sure she wasn't overreacting.
So she held the small blue packet of powdered substance in her palm and showed it around at work yesterday.
Everyone asked the same thing:
What was she doing with crack cocaine?
"I thought she confiscated it in the courtroom," said Administrative Judge Kevin Dougherty.
No one could believe what the tiny pouch actually was: a new breath mint made by - get this - Hershey's.
Ice Breakers Pacs, which hit the stores this month, are dissolvable pouches in blue or orange that look uncannily like tiny heat-sealed bags of cocaine, crack, heroin or any other powdered drug.
The Pacs, filled with powdered mint and sweetener, are meant to dissolve on the tongue like breath strips.
They're even packaged in a plastic slide-top case similar to the magnetic key cases drug dealers use to hide their wares under cars.
"I could not believe it," Judge Dumas Brooks said yesterday.
"Who in the world thought of that, and how did it get approved?"
The pouches are so realistic, they even fooled Philadelphia Police Chief Inspector William Blackburn.
"Being in narcotics the majority of my career, I thought it was the real stuff," said Blackburn.
"It's a disgrace to see a company selling a product like this and basically glorifying the drug trade. The best word to describe it is despicable."
The best word to describe Hershey's is . . . clueless.
"It's not intended to simulate anything," corporate spokesman Kirk Seville told me yesterday, refusing to acknowledge the similarities between the candy and street drugs.
"We have a longstanding commitment to consumer safety, product quality and responsible packaging," he said, adding that the Pacs are "clearly labeled."
"The dissolvable pouch is what makes the product innovative and unique. The overwhelming feedback from consumers is they love the product."
Maybe Hershey's should have had Linda Wagner in one of its focus groups.
Wagner is a 10-year veteran of the Police Department who switched to narcotics three years ago for personal reasons: Her teenage daughter died of a heroin overdose in 2001.
When Blackburn showed her the mint packets yesterday, Wagner was near tears.
"I was shocked," she said.
"Hershey's is totally irresponsible for marketing this product."
When Officer Regina Missouri saw them, she immediately conjured up the potentially deadly scenarios the look-alike pouches could create.
What if children use them and subsequently stumble upon and ingest a real bag of drugs, thinking they're mints, she said?
What if a drug dealer mixed some in with real street drugs and sold them to an unsuspecting buyer - who retaliated with a spray of bullets?
What if a teenager took them to school? Even though each pouch has a small Ice Breakers logo on it, how would a street-naive teacher differentiate it from drug packets, which are also sometimes labeled by their distributors?
"This is unheard of; it's an insult," said Missouri, a grandmother of three young children.
She brought the packets to the attention of her commanding officer in the Employee Assistance Program, Capt. Thomas Collier, who brought it to Blackburn's attention.
Officer Tracy Brooks, Missouri's colleague in the EAP, brought some home to show his wife, Judge Dumas Brooks.
And the judge imagined another scenario: the undermining of drug busts made on visual observation of money changing hands for colored packets of powder.
"This potentially could give them a legal out," said Dumas Brooks.
"It's terrible. It's terrible."
My jaw dropped, too, when I saw the Pacs. And everyone I showed them to thought they were street drugs.
Is Hershey's trying a new edgy and urban marketing tactic? Are the candy-makers brain-dead from too much chocolate?
It's hard to imagine a company so isolated that it doesn't recognize the similarities between its "newest refreshment innovation" and the powdered junk that's for sale on the streets.
Company founder Milton Hershey - who devoted his fortune to saving children - must be rolling in his grave.
Clearly the company needs to take this product off the shelves.
"I think some strong community groups, groups with parents that have lost a loved one should unite together and petition this company and demand that this product be taken off the market," Chief Inspector Blackburn said.
Officer Wagner plans to do her part.
"I'm going to contact Hershey and hopefully I'm going to get a meeting," she said.
"I'm going to bring my daughter's picture, and let them see what drugs can do." *
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns: