Tuesday, January 05, 2010 

Scum-watch: Nutted.

Back in November the Sun decided that it was time to resort to the old tabloid trick of attacking someone by association when they couldn't lay a finger on the target himself personally. David Nutt, a senior adviser on drugs to the ACMD, had just been defenestrated by Alan Johnson for daring to argue again that cannabis isn't as dangerous as either the government claims or its classification suggests, so naturally it was time to go scouting around his children's social networking pages to see if they could find any pay dirt.

The result, an article which accused his son Stephen of partaking in cannabis because he was smoking what was clearly a roll-up and not a normal, honest, cigarette, his daughter Lydia of drinking underage, and the by no means hypocritical sneering at his eldest son for appearing naked in the snow in Sweden, ended up being removed with days of it appearing.

Yesterday the Press Complaints Commission published Stephen Nutt's letter of complaint on their website (h/t Tabloid Watch):

The complaint was resolved when the newspaper removed the article from the website, undertook not to repeat the story and published the following letter:

FURTHER to your article about photographs of me on my Facebook site, (November 14) I would like to make clear the pictures were not posted by me and while I had been drinking I was smoking a rolled-up cigarette which did not contain cannabis as the article insinuated. My younger sister Lydia was not intoxicated, so was not drinking under age. My older brother lives in Sweden where it is custom to use a sauna followed by a ‘romp' in the snow in winter. He was neither drunk nor under the influence of intoxicants. Innocuous photographs were taken out of context in an attempt to discredit my father's work.

Which is about as comprehensive and wounding a clarification as ever gets published in the Sun. The article was so obviously in breach of the PCC's code on privacy, not to mention accuracy, that it should never have been published in the first place though; why then should the paper get away without making anything approaching an apology, only having to print a clarification buried away on the letters page? As long as the PCC remains so toothless in the face of such egregious breaches of its code, the campaigning will continue not just for reform but potentially for independent regulation of the press.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Friday, October 30, 2009 

How government science policy works.

1. In an effort to bring some evidence into a policy often made on the back of scaremongering, hysteria and misinformation, appoint an independent body to examine and advise on what the specific dangers and harms of drugs are, with a view to bringing their suggestions on which drugs should stay legal and illegal, and if illegal, which category they should be in into line with the actual law.

2. Ignore entirely what the board tells you when it doesn't fall into line with you want to hear, and especially so when it completely contradicts what the Daily Mail says.

3. When the chief scientist on the board then complains about this and continues to maintain that his view is right while yours is wrong, demand that he apologises for the "hurt" he caused to the families of those who have died while taking drugs.

4. When the chief scientist then again repeats his argument and accuses you of "devaluing and distorting" the scientific evidence, demand that he resigns for daring to express the opinion which you asked him to provide in the first place.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 

The war on drugs marches on.

Partly because the moral panic about Ecstasy has long since died away, and partly because it was well-known that Jacqui Smith and the Home Office would reject any suggestion whatsoever that the drug should be downgraded to Class B, the publication of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs' report on the harm associated with the drug, and the predicted refusal to accept their advice to downgrade it have been rather underwhelmingly reported. This is a shame, because it's quite clear that when compared to the decision to upgrade cannabis to Class B, the refusal to downgrade Ecstasy is just as outrageous and contemptible.

The problem with our drug laws only gets more and more obvious as the years go by. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is the root of all the problems: it is, to use the horrible cliche, not fit for purpose. The prohibition of drugs has not stopped their use; it has rather only increased it, enriched the criminals that sell them and made it even more difficult to treat those who become addicted. The key problem though is that the 1971 act is blanket prohibition masquerading, with the involvement of the ACMD, as a harm reduction strategy when it is nothing of the sort. This fiction is kept up by the three separate classes of drugs, with the most dangerous and most harmful in Class A, with the least harmful but still illegal in Class C. The classification system is however completely and utterly broken; it has the more or less completely harmless magic mushrooms in Class A, alongside the also relatively benign LSD and Ecstasy, while cigarettes which kill hundreds of thousands across the world every year, is in none of the categories. Likewise, alcohol, which can cause untold misery and precipitates violence, is also completely legal.

Both should of course remain completely legal; if individuals want to slowly poison themselves, especially with tobacco and nicotine, then they are perfectly entitled to do so as long as they don't harm others at the same time. Our liberated attitude towards tobacco and alcohol is in sharp contrast to that towards cannabis, which although can cause harm, as heavy use suggests that it can induce psychosis, as well as having similar effects on the lungs when smoked to tobacco, remains illegal and demonised by the popular press. Ecstasy is arguably even safer than cannabis: the ACMD report and David Nutt's previous article which compared MDMA use in harm terms to horse riding, both argue that the main danger when using the drug is that users become either dehydrated, from drinking too little while dancing, to becoming too hot, or more rarely, develop hyponatraemia, where too much water is drank, which notably was the actual cause of death in the case of Leah Betts. MDMA itself is only toxic when taken in very high doses, which is rare. It's also not addictive, there is little concrete evidence as yet that it has long-term side effects, although some studies have suggested there may be memory problems in later life, and unlike cocaine, heroin or indeed alcohol, it tends not to lead to violence among those who take it; quite the opposite, in fact. The other main cause for concern is directly associated with its illegality: it's impossible to know what else is in the pill other than MDMA, or indeed whether there is any MDMA in what you've bought at all, or whether it might instead contain its sister, MDA, or other substances. If anything, the levels of MDMA in the pills has declined over time: the pills which became exceptionally popular due to their intensity during the early 90s, named "love doves" after the dove stamped on them, have long gone, as have the similarly well-remembered initial "Mitsubishis", stamped with the car company's logo, from the late 90s. MDMA "powder", which is regarded as more likely to be purer, has increased in popularity as a result.

Compared to the insanity which is the Class A status of magic mushrooms, or Psilocybin mushrooms to give them their proper name, Ecstasy's status looks reasonably rational. That something which grows perfectly naturally of its own accord is illegal is a mind-twister by itself; when you consider that the number of people who have died as a result of taking shrooms numbers between 0 and 10 despite evidence that they have been used since before the earliest recorded history makes it even more ludicrous. The only thing that's going to damage someone from taking magic mushrooms is what a bad trip might do to their psyche, and even then most will get over it with no problems whatsoever.

The government itself knows that once the debate has moved on from the hysteria to the actual scientific evidence regarding harm, the blanket prohibition on drugs is now fast becoming completely untenable. This is why it has withdrawn from so much as bothering to argue their case regarding the softer drugs, and was doubtless ecstatic to be helped along regarding cannabis by the useful idiots in the press that claimed that the cannabis of today was 20 or 30 times stronger than before, when this was demonstrably not the case. Instead, it's had to settle on "sending a message"; it was sending a message that smoking cannabis was unacceptable by raising it to Class B, while emphasising the dangers of the new ultra-strength skunk, just as it is now sending a message that taking Ecstasy is unacceptable by keeping it in Class A. Ever since the initial moral panic over heroin in the 1960s, the press has helped with the idea that most drugs are unpredictably deadly, while public opinion has also stayed in much the same position, supporting prohibition and most recently the raising of cannabis back up to Class B.

The ACMD in essence completely wasted its time in bothering to review Ecstasy, because the government had already made plain and clear that regardless of what their review said, Ecstasy would stay in Class A, as Transform made more than clear in their submission to the ACMD (PDF). At least the policy on ecstasy has been consistent: the downgrading of cannabis, which was in line with the ACMD's recommendation, was then overturned once the government decided that to upgrade it again was politically expedient, regardless of their scientific analysis. If the members of the ACMD had something resembling guts, they would resign en masse, as after all, what is the point of an advisory council which delivers independent advice based on a review of the all the relative literature and evidence if that evidence is going to be completely disregarded because it doesn't fit with the government's pre-defined policy? Instead, David Nutt apologised to Jacqui Smithover his comparison of the dangers of Ecstasy and horse riding after she disgracefully criticised him in parliament. His article ruthlessly exposed the stupidity inherent in our current policy towards drugs, and also ruthlessly exposed our government ministers as being just as stupid, and just as cowardly in the face of the ignorance but deafening noise of the tabloid press. Evidence-based policy has never been such a contradiction in terms.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Share |

Wednesday, January 02, 2008 

The most idiotic newspaper in Britain.

Some of us are more inclined to believe the most idiotic police chief in Britain is the delusional murderer in charge of the Met.

January the 2nd. The day the nation returns to work and the gloom descends for an inordinate amount of time. For the tabloid newspapers, with there being little actual news to report from New Year's Day, there's always easy stories to cover: the Scum going for the obvious in covering the fallout from the night before last; the Express moralising in a similar fashion about "Binge Britain's night of shame", while illustrating the event with a photograph of a number of women wearing white shorts and little else. God forbid that anyone go out and attempt to enjoy themselves once a year.

The Mail meanwhile had another target in its sights: Richard Brunstrom, chief constable of north Wales police, denounced as the head of the "traffic Taliban" and a known critic of the failures of drug prohibition had been on the Today programme and been making his views clear. From this, the Mail has conjured up "outrage" and is demanding his head on a platter.

Notorious chief constable Richard Brunstrom is facing demands to resign after publicly claiming that the illegal rave drug ecstasy is safer than aspirin.

In his latest bizarre proclamation, he insisted that the drug - which claims almost 50 lives a year - was a "remarkably safe substance".

And he went on to dismiss what he called "scaremongering" over the dangers, while predicting that all drugs would be legalised within ten years.

In the Mail's parlance, a bizarre proclamation appears to be repeating an established fact. Despite the 90s moral panic, led by the Mail about the dangers of ecstasy, MDMA itself is indeed remarkably safe. The main dangers of taking MDMA are not from the drug itself but what the individual does during/after taking it. The majority of deaths after someone has taken MDMA are caused either by dehydration and overheating, by not taking on enough fluids while dancing, or by the exact opposite, by drinking too much water, which can lead to hyponatremia or water intoxication. Water intoxication is what killed Leah Betts, the most well known "Ecstasy victim", not the MDMA which she consumed.

The other major safety concern about Ecstasy is its purity. The tablets are routinely "cut" with other substances, and while only very rarely have these other substances been innately dangerous, they can contain other stimulants, which have their own effects and dangers. The biggest question about the safety of MDMA is not its immediate effects, but the side-effects in the long term. Because MDMA only came into wide mainstream use in the late 1980s, these are still relatively unknown, but studies have raised concerns about depression, especially due to how MDMA affects serotonin levels, and memory loss.

Where Brunstorm has exaggerated and stretched the facts is in comparing the drug to aspirin. It's not a good comparison for the simple reason that aspirin isn't a recreational drug, unless you're permanently popping painkillers. While aspirin can be used in suicide attempts, it's still not a good comparison because so can almost anything else. He is however quite right that research has found that MDMA is safer in terms of potential harm than both alcohol and tobacco. While he might not be quite right in stating that government research has found MDMA to be safer than both, where he appears to be referring to the findings of the Science and Technology committee report in 2006 (PDF, page 176) the recent attempt by a number of drug experts to create a rational scale to assess the harm posed by the misuse of drugs ranked MDMA as 18th most dangerous of the 20 substances examined, with only alkyl nitrates and khat below it. Heroin was the most dangerous, while cocaine, which isn't ranked in terms of crack and powder, was second, with barbiturates third. Alcohol was 5th and tobacco 9th. Cannabis was 11th.

The Daily Mail however has never been a newspaper to let the facts get in the way of its apoplexy. It got straight on the blower to the bereaved in order to get them to condemn the most idiotic policeman in Britain:

Des Delaney, whose 18-year-old daughter Siobhan was killed by a single pill at a nightclub two years ago, said Mr Brunstrom "should go and stand by my daughter's grave every week and see how he feels".

Mr Delaney appears to be projecting his grief and maybe even his guilt. How Brunstrom's comments affect his daughter's death in any way appears to be unclear: are the police meant to have stopped her from purchasing the tablet which apparently killed her? How is Brunstrom, arguing as he is for an end to prohibition, doing anything other than giving his own point of view?

Recent figures show that between 1999 and 2004, UK deaths from ecstasy, a Class A illegal drug, rose from 26 to 48 per year - putting them roughly on a par with fatalities from cocaine.

Cocaine though, unlike MDMA, is a highly addictive drug, and while it is mostly only dangerous in the short-term through the strain it places on the heart, the long-term side effects are legion and well-documented.

And campaigners said his comparison was "absurd", since aspirin is taken for medical reasons and also saves countless lives, whereas ecstasy is illegal and is taken for kicks.

What does MDMA's illegality have to do with it? That gives an insight into the campaigners the Mail has contacted to comment, who are concerned only with prohibition and not examining what works and what doesn't.

Mary Brett, UK spokesman for the Europe Against Drugs campaign group, said: "This was an extremely stupid and irresponsible comment. Aspirin is taken as medication to help people get better. Ecstasy is taken to upset the chemical balance of the brain deliberately.

Ah yes, that's exactly what those taking MDMA are doing. "Have you got any E's mate, I'm looking to upset the chemical balance of my brain deliberately so as to get a proper buzz on?" Europe Against Drugs is currently campaigning for magic mushrooms, an incredibly safe hallucinogen not even featured on the Lancet's harm graph to be banned in the Netherlands, which ought to tell you all you need to know about their positioning.

Richard Brunstrom is supposed to be a figure of authority and responsibility, respected by young people, and he's sending out a very dangerous message.

Indeed. The young have always respected the police.

Peter Stoker of the National Drugs Prevention Alliance said: "Mr Brunstrom should resign. His comments are increasingly incompatible with his position.

"Danger from an illegal drug isn't just a question of how poisonous it is in the short term - although any dose of ecstasy can kill - it includes the damaging behaviour which people are sucked into, and the harm it does to those around them, particularly their families."

Now this is dangerous and irresponsible commenting. MDMA itself very rarely if ever kills, it's the other actions that kill. Stoker is also trying to suggest that MDMA causes damaging behaviour, and unless you include overfriendliness and gurning to be damaging, this is clearly nonsense. MDMA is not heroin or crack, and trying to suggest it is or even that it's an stepping-stone to "harder" drugs is specious reasoning.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "If you strike the attitudes taken by this particular chief constable, if you thoughtlessly downgrade cannabis, if you treat dangerous drugs as 'no worse than aspirin', you make a gift to the drug dealers and criminals who are destroying the lives of so many young people."

David Davis really doesn't get it, does he? Brunstrom's very reasoning is that prohibition has failed because of those very same drug dealers and criminals "who are destroying the lives of so many young people". Their illegality does nothing to stop their spread whilst also criminalising those who find themselves sucked into cycles of addiction and dependence. The continued prescribing of methadone when prescribing heroin itself is both safer and found to be more effective in helping addicts quit, which Brunstrom has also argued for, is similarly based on such reasoning. Davis and the Conservatives have railed against the reclassification of cannabis at Class C yet have completely ignored the evidence which suggests that consumption has dropped as a result.

Both the Mail's and the Conservatives' position is based around the doctrine that the best prevention is blanket prohibition, which is also in their eyes morally justifiable. Both refuse to so much as countenance the view that drugs need to be measured by the harm they do cause rather than the harm they can cause, as the paper published in the Lancet set out to do. After all, who better to talk about the dangers of drugs than journalists for the middle-classes, both known for their copious intake of Colombian marching powder or wanker fuel, while the Tories are lead by a man who refuses to talk about his past drug taking as a private matter, with a shadow chancellor notorious for his past snorting habit. At least Labour ministers admitted to having sampled cannabis, even if they then told today's youth not to give into the temptations they did. Through the manufactured newspaper outrage and the political opportunism based on prejudices rather evidence and research, drug policy in this country remains trapped in the same rut since the passing of the Misuse of Drugs Act. That in itself will lead to more deaths and damage over time than MDMA ever will.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Share |


  • This is septicisle


Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates