Drugs panic shock horror again…

More drugs panic this week with the Mcat scare hitting the tabloids in traditional style. Rather less publicity was given to the government’s refusal – and the reasons for that refusal – to limit alcohol promotion which would have gone a long way to reducing the huge harm that drug causes.

First of all Mcat, aka “mephedrone” or  ‘Meow, Meow’; the subject of the latest drug scare. According to that source of rational debate on drugs issues  the Daily Mail:

Action pledged on ‘Meow, Meow’ drug after two teen friends die within hours of taking ‘legal high’

Now of course it would be unwise to comment too directly on this sad case, two young people are dead and we don’t know the full story. But just because they took some of this Mcat stuff doesn’t mean it was the cause of their deaths, although the Mail states

Police confirmed the drug ‘appears to have contributed to their death’.

Not, of course, that the police are medical experts or anything like that. It’s worth mentioning in passing that the Sun had previously reported, back in November

A LEGAL drug known as ‘meow meow’ led one lad to rip off his own SCROTUM, police said today.

Which probably says more about the medical knowledge of the police, or maybe the value of tabloid paper’s  reporting, than about the real dangers of Mcat.

Anyway, the campaign to get Mcat banned is now in full swing but why stop there? The Mail again:

Drugs campaigner Maryon Stewart called for new US-style laws banning the legal drugs for a year while scientists assess the dangers to children and young people.

This is an idea also picked up by the Tory party who have apparently promised to do something similar should they win the next election. According to the Sun: “Harman snub for  Meow meow ban”

The Tories want “legal high” drugs banned until their risks are assessed.

Anyway for good measure Head teachers are adding their voices with another Daily mailheadline screaming

The ‘death’ drug we can’t police: Even teachers don’t have power to seize ‘legal high’ meow meow

It’s pretty clear where all this is heading. The war on drugs is about to move into a new phase where everything is prohibited until it’s allowed. An interesting and truly worrying concept as we slide into a police state.

Lets just take a step back here. First of all, although it does have some bad effects Mcat has not actually been shown to be dangerous and anyway is not actually being sold not as a drug, but as a “plant fertiliser” in packs clearly labelled “Not for human consumption”. The Druglink blog had a few interesting comments about all this:

Mephedrone is plant food:
No it isn’t. Try putting it on your tomatoes and see what happens. In fact, mephedrone could have been marketed as shoe polish or anything. This is simply a ruse used by sellers to try and dodge medicines and poisoning legislation by saying that the substance is not being sold for human consumption. Earlier this year a spokesman for the European Fertiliser Manufacturers’ Association said: “It [mephedrone] is never used in any products that people would use to fertilise plants.”

Perhaps, but the stuff my puss-cat buries in the flower beds isn’t included in its raw state in any “products people would use to fertilise plants”  either but actually it works quite well over time. It could be that Mcat is actually quite good food if added to plants, most organic compounds are actually, whereas few make effective boot polish. However, in all honesty it would be difficult to see how selling a product in a pack clearly labelled as “not for human consumption” is a “ruse” if it weren’t for the places it’s being sold in; the “Head shops”.  More about that shortly, the important thing here is “medicines and poisoning legislation” – we already have laws which cover this sort of thing.

Druglink adds this important bit of information about the tragic deaths at the heart of this panic:

Media reporting on the deaths of two young men from Scunthorpe have declared mephedrone as the cause of death. But currently Humberside police are investigating the possible role played by alcohol and methadone as well as mephedrone in the fatalities.

So these kids had been drinking alcohol and had taken Methadone and yet Mcat is blamed for their deaths? If true that would be a classic example of how a media frenzy can obscure important information and lead to the creation of highly unjust laws. Alcohol and methadone individually and together of course can and do kill.

The problem the tabloids are building their scare on is that kids are using Mcat and all the concerns expressed are really around the issue of child protection. Well, that’s easy: Properly control and regulate the way such drugs are sold and marketed. At the present time these legal highs are sold in the Headshops and online sites which play to the recreational drug market. They do this of course because there is a huge demand for recreational drugs and there is big money to be made from the trade. It would seem that the one avenue which hasn’t been explored is the option of properly controlling and regulating the headshops to make sure they sell potentially dangerous substances in a responsible way, to impose age limits and so on.

To be frank, there isn’t a problem with older people taking recreational drugs, the problem comes when they are sold in packs which, whilst saying “not for human consumption” also hint – indeed more than hint – at the party use and are sold with no age limits for purchase by people with no knowledge or training. It’s made worse when they are sold as safer alternative to prohibited drugs, presumably on the basis that they aren’t banned.

The Headshops are a big part of the problem here for sure, they could be and need to be a part of the solution. As things stand they seem to be crying out to be shut down. This isn’t the first time this blog has highlighted the problem, over a year ago now the role of their trade association the ATA was discussed, sadly little seems to have improved since then.

But there is another question which needs to be asked and it’s an important one. Why has Mcat become so popular? The answer to that of course is that the previous party drugs have been targeted by prohibition efforts. Like trying to nail jelly to the ceiling enforcement has simply spread the problem into new and uncharted products. It’s even accepted that once this one is banned, something else will replace it, hence the idea of banning everything until it’s allowed, or after a year whichever comes first apparently.

If we had a properly controlled and regulated trade in cannabis, where it was treated as an adult pastime, would we have this spill-over to kids? How much of the problem we see now is caused by prohibition, the war on (some) drugs? We should be asking this sort of question instead of allowing gutter press scare stories to lock us further into the morass of prohibition.

And now the twist to the story. Alcohol is one of the drugs not uncontrolled because of prohibition and this week the government announced its decision for the future of booze advertising; it rejected calls for further limits. As the Guardian reported the government rejected a Health Select Committee proposal to restrict alcohol advertising because it was

… disproportionate and said that “given the current economic climate extensive regulatory interventions … would most likely have a significant impact on the creative industries. It is not clear that this impact would be a proportionate or effective response.”

Other restrictions rejected by the government recommended included stopping drinks companies from advertising in the media or sponsoring events involving sport or music if the audience is likely to be at least 10% people who are too young to legally buy alcohol.

On the one hand we have the calls to ban substances which the tabloid press create hysteria about, yet a refusal to restrict the pushing (which is what advertising is) of a drug known to cause a great number of deaths both directly and indirectly to the very same group of young people because it might have a negative impact on the Creative Industries – advertising agencies to you.

No wonder we have a drug problem in this country.

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UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

5 comments on “Drugs panic shock horror again…

  1. Sunshine Band

    Clearly the lobbyists from alcohol industry and more powerful pharmaceutical interests play the government’s hands in administerring the law. This is why we have a drug problem, it is irrational through bias towards existing capital markets.

    Government have lost control completely, they cannot ban anything because the ACMD is inquorate, the stuff is everywhere and being sold quite problematically. Their ultimate response might well be something like the US Analogue Act where they will ban almost everything and doubtless we will see all the unpleasantness of prohibition running riot. Kids will probably be back on ‘evo-stick’ and the masses of chinese ‘legal high’ chemicals already here will be cut with unpleasant chemicals and be sold for years to come.

    I think the way these chemicals are sold will make problems, especially as they are potent powders and most kids don’t have a digital scale which will measure milligrams. Then of course there is no consumer information. I think there needs to be an ‘at your own risk’ info leaflet with these products and they should be retailed like regular drugs – properly dosed into pills or medicine. I think people are being harmed because of simple over-dosing. This is what the government must act on, but not by banning it.

  2. phrtao

    These legal highs undoubtedly pose a serious threat to health and it is nearly impossible to prohibit them under the current MoD (Miss-use of Drugs) Act.
    That is because:
    They are mostly manufactured chemicals which can be ever so slightly changed and they are legal again.
    There is a possibility that any prosecution will need to prove that the substances are being sold for intended human consumption. (Solvent abuse is a lethal activity but solvents are still sold in many shops – just not to anyone looking under age)
    Also it is very hard for the police to know what some one has or is selling without being trained chemists and carrying a mobile lab with them. The police will not want to waste their time unless they know that the person or persons they arrest will actually be charged (and preferably be found guilty as well)
    This means that ‘Legal highs’ cannot be persecuted or prohibited with the same vigor as cannabis – it will be like they were a class C drug at best. (often possession is ignored and large scale distribution is prosecuted in some cases)

    So yet more evidence from everyday experience that the MoD act is being wrongly applied – since the clause about classifications and penalties being proportionate to harm is being flagrantly ignored in favor of cultural bias and historic precedent.

    In the meantime People, often children, suffer and great harm is caused to our society. In this context cannabis (proper sativa grass and indica hashish – grown outside in the traditional countries – NOT ‘Skunk’) doesn’t seem that bad does it ?

  3. Sunshine Band

    They will come up with a broad sweeping law to confound the chemists – it just will be a mistake that’s all. They see the problem as insufficient prohibition, but really the problem is prohibition.

  4. jinx

    When a child gets his first taste of chocolate or sweets he will want you to buy them for him all the time, you would prefer if he didn’t want them altogether but you know that the only options you have are to either regulate the amount and frequency while making sure its not all pumped full of e-numbers, try to ban him from ever eating chocolate or sweets again (at which point he is almost certainly going to disobey you) or you can give him as much as he wants whenever he wants.

    you would expect anyone to see that the best option is the first option

  5. jinx

    control and regulate the drugs market effectively or not at all, this system has failed terribly, creating a problem where there shouldn’t be one

Comments are closed.