Thursday, 18 March 2010

Doing What the Press Should Do - Talking to a Professional about the Facts Regarding Mephedrone

Mephedrone has hold of this country’s thrill-seeking clubbers and easily-influenced youngsters by the scruff of the neck, if the latest news reports on the substance are anything to be believed. This legal high has quickly infiltrated the illicit drugs market, and its cheap price tag, problem-free procurement and risk-free (as far as the law is concerned) nature has kept it more popular than any other synthesised cathinone in Britain over the past two years. But why has MMKat been singled out as the most dangerous legally obtained drug by the press and latterly the police and the government? Why are there currently calls to rethink its legal status? What even is it? And why are people taking it, rather than other more established party drugs?
Dr Karenza Moore, a criminologist from Lancaster University, has been involved with several important reports into the nature of drug and rave culture over the years, alongside colleague Dr Fiona Measham, a noted expert on drug culture. Every year or so there is another new substance to research and analyse, so what does she think about mephedrone’s rapid rise in popularity?

“I think that mephedrone (and to a lesser degree methylone) has grown in popularity partly due to a reduction in the availability (and thus purity) of illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cocaine. The resultant disillusionment amongst users has been a key motivation for displacement to substituted cathinones, which are conveniently and legally purchased online. Users also perceive mephedrone to be 'purer' than street drugs, and think it is reasonably priced. It will be interesting to see whether users revert back to pills and coke after mephedrone is made illegal. My feeling is that an illegal market in mephedrone will be created post-criminalisation, and that mephedrone will continue to be one drug amongst the many that clubbers use.”
She says that no matter what the substance or the context, the key to damage limitation is the spread of facts and information. Notably she looks at the way drugs are portrayed in the media, and how this affects their usage on the street and their likely paths towards criminalisation via the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. “The ACMD work within a prohibitionist framework. Any substance that creates a 'high' is likely to be criminalised as this is the usual ACMD/UK government response to recreational drug use. This is part of what Fiona [and I] have called 'the criminalisation of intoxication'. The drive to criminalisation also relates to media coverage of mephdrone. As word of mouth has spread, alongside growing internet publicity and the inevitable press coverage of the latest ‘demon drug’, mephedrone sales have spiralled. At the time of writing this there are press reports of another teenager dying “after experimenting with legal drug meow meow”, although a toxicology report has yet to confirm the cause of death.”

With such little evidence to support the stories surfacing about the dangerousness of mephedrone in relation to its illegal drug peers, why is making the substance illegal the first course of action for the government? It was reported in the Daily Mail (16/03/2010) that the Conservatives, in their run up campaign towards this year’s election, were stating that one of their first acts should they win would be to address the legality of mephedrone. According to the Telegraph however, any efforts to ban mephedrone were seriously hindered by the swift sacking of top drugs adviser David Nutt after his comments on legalising cannabis and ecstasy being statistically “less dangerous than horse riding in its 20 years of use”. Within the article, Niamh Eastwood from drugs law charity Release said: “Our position is that scientists should be able to express their opinions without fear of being sacked, and the Government's decision to sack Professor Nutt did a lot of damage to the ACMD.”

So has unwarranted fear of the unknown prevented the government and its research bodies from acting out of the interests of the public? It certainly seems that nearly 20 years since Leah Betts died after taking ecstasy at a party, little has changed in the way the news and information about drugs is imparted to the public, despite more and more substances becoming readily available on the street. Karenza Moore explains that in her field of research, it is lack of information that causes the most damage. “My main concern is that there are people using mephedrone who have not had experience with other drugs, and so may be lacking in basic harm reduction knowledge, about carefully controlling dosage for example, or drinking fluids and making sure they don't get too hot. As with most drugs, it is the context in which they are taken and the other substances, including alcohol, that they are taken with that increases their 'dangerousness'. This issue points to a need for good harm reduction initiatives that acknowledges that people will take drugs rather than preaching 'just say no', which doesn't work, and tries to minimise the possible harms involved. Medical and social scientific research needs to be undertaken on mephedrone (indeed all the substituted cathinones). This research should then be communicated to parents and users.“

Mephedrone isn’t the only substituted cathinone on the block though. Cathinones have been around for over 50 years, as a synthetic substitute for Khat, a naturally occurring stimulant used for centuries and described by the ancient Egyptians as a “divine food” capable of releasing a person’s divinity. In recent years it has become increasingly easy to find synthesised cathinones, each with their own specific effects on the mind and body. Some may have more hallucinatory properties, whereas others may simply work almost as an amphetamine. With so many substances causing so many different effects, the danger here is users not knowing what they are getting themselves into.

Mephedrone is clearly the most popular of these substances, because of its availability, price and the fact that it has no legal implications. Closely related to MMKat however, is methylone, a different drug with different effects but with an incredibly similar name due to its chemical make-up. After asking parents about the perils of mephedrone, it was shocking to see just how many had mistaken the drug for “methedone” – the drug given to recovering heroin addicts in order to wean them off the class A substance. Methedone is, in itself, a class A drug on the streets, and has absolutely no connection with mephedrone. This may be a seemingly benign mistake, but small misunderstandings can cause major problems, and when parents are totally unaware of what drugs their children may be encountering, what effects they might have, and critically what they should do in any type of emergency, this is where the dangers start to occur.

Will making MMKat a class C substance change the way people consume it? According to Dr Moore, it is unlikely that the main reason people have turned to mephedrone is because of its legal status. “In terms of legality, the appeal of mephedrone appears to relate less to a fear of arrest and more to the convenience arising from its legal status. By comparison with the more familiar illegal drugs, mephedrone is comparatively easy to obtain. There are no restrictions to online purchase in terms of minimum age requirements, quantities or customer identification; nor is it necessary to acquire the requisite subcultural knowledge of illicit markets as is required to purchase illegal drugs.

“Research indicates that enforcement alone does not necessarily have a significant impact on illegal drug markets at street level. While the rapid rise in mephedrone use is evident, what is less clear is the extent to which these push factors of lack of availability and low purity of illegal drugs are combining with the pull factors of curiosity to experiment with a new legal high – and whether this curiosity will be as easily dampened as it has been ignited. This is illustrated in the recent Mixmag survey, with the main reason given by clubbers for taking legal club drugs such as mephedrone and BZP being the lack of availability of other drugs.”

So what next for this non-plant-feeding plant food? Is it nearly game over for legal cathinone substitutes? The ACMD certainly hope so, and if the papers are anything to go by, and usually what’s on the front page of the middle-market press is a good indication of what the government is thinking (or about to think); mephedrone is soon to be relegated to the misuse of drugs act 1978. Will changes in the law prevent potential deaths and dangers being caused by MMKat? Will making mephedrone illegal make any noticeable difference to the use of designer drugs in this country? Karenza doesn’t think so. “In short, no. People will keep taking it, but get it from street dealers instead of over the internet. I recently spoke to a mephedrone dealer in a club. I asked him what he planned to when it was made illegal. He said "I'll put my prices up".”

Information in this article sourced from interviews and articles: "Tweaking, bombing,
dabbing and stockpiling:the emergence of mephedrone and the perversity of prohibition - Measham, Moore et al., 2010
" and "Repertoires of distinction: Exploring patterns of weekend polydrug use within local leisure scenes across the English night time economy - Measham and Moore, 2009"

More information, transcripts and quotes on request.


Anonymous said...

One of the problems with the media's portrayal of drugs that I have seen is the mistrust of the media it breeds, and sometimes this can have a "reverse psychology" style effect on users. What I mean is if you are at a club or a party and loads of people are taking drugs and someone mentions leah betts, you can guarantee that someone will say "yeah but what the papers didnt tell you is that she also x y z and loads of something else, and not enough water" but the facts will be different every time and debated over every time. The people taking the drugs aren't finding out all the facts, as they should be, but are basing their logic on the fact that the media distorts the truth. They know that the story in the paper isnt factual, and it is negative towards drugs, so the truth is probably positive towards drugs, whatever that truth maybe.

Personally I think that that false sense of security in blindly disbelieving the daily mail, without finding out the actual truth, is potentially more dangerous than the papers not saying anything at all.

And to that end, thank you for printing lots of facts, in an easy to digest fashion

Katie said...

Exactly - people feel that drugs must be safe, because the Daily Mail has become the media version of opposite day...teh say one thing, the opposite must in that case be true.

I am highly interested in drug culture, as you know Mr Electro, and what gets me all up in the ire is when people say misinformed things about drugs - be they anti or pro the subject. There just aren't enough facts out there for people to pick up in good faith, because they are seen as either lefty-nonesense or right-wing "just say no" draconian awfulness.

People don't want to be told what to do, but to that end they need real information to tackle situations fully informed as to what they are about to let themselves in for. I am not anti-drugs at all, but I become that way when I see people consuming piles of any given substance with gay abandon. Would these people take other decisions in life as lightly? I guess maybe not. I'm all for experimenting, but my whole deal is knowing everything about what you're doing.

Call me a drug nerd, but that's perhaps what I am. I can't see why anybody would want to alter their minds and not know exactly how they did it. Perhaps chemical compounds don't excite people as much as they do me....

Anonymous said...

That's like me and food.

When Delia says to sprinkle the flour in from a height to "help get air into the sponge" WHAT? how much air can a particle of flour trap? ARGH!

Katie said...

Hahaha yes! It sounds pretty much the same as me and my love for all things chemical. I just find it fascinating how one chemical can change so much under the influence of others.

chestymorgan said...

Erm,if I may chime in with my empirical data on MMkat? Just say yes kids,but enjoy responsibly

Bet the drug dealers are getting all bothered in the crotch dept at the prospect of it being made illegal though

Anonymous said...

到處逛逛~~來繞繞留個言囉~~~~ .........................................

Bailey's Beads said...

Not calling you a drug nerd until we get some write ups about some first-hand experiences :p

Katie said...

But then I would lose my trustworthy objective journalist stance!

Also, you've been a reader for ages BB, thanks a lot :) do you mind me asking out of noseyness who you are?

Bailey's Beads said...

I'm that cheeky monkey guy.

Oh and if you're looking for subjects:

Keep writing!

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