How dangerous is meow meow? One thing's for sure: we won't be finding out by opening a newspaper. Now that two deaths have been linked to it, it's time for a bit of panic-porn. Imagine if swine flu and Facebook had sex and produced a runty child that went around killing people: that's the kind of treatment that meow meow's getting right now. Evil! Danger! Terror! Dead children! Aaargh!
Were they 'killed by meow meow', as those headlines boldly state? Well...
Police said they believed the drug, also known as "meow meow" or m-cat,contributed to the deaths of Louis Wainwright, 18, and Nicholas Smith, 19. They died on Monday after a night out drinking in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire.
It depends on whether you think 'contributed to someone's death' is the same as 'killed'. Or whether you think that matters. Or whether you don't give a shit, so long as you flog some scary newspapers to ramp up the panic and take your readers round that ghost train one more time.
Of course it brings to mind that all-time classic
episode of Brass Eye in which all kinds of celebrities were all too keen to come forward and make bizarre claims for how a huge fluorescent yellow drug called 'cake' could affect your 'Shatner's Bassoon'. Meow meow, as we are doomed to call it now, is real enough; but how dangerous is it really? Does it just contribute to people's deaths when combined with other activities, legal or otherwise - in which case, why isn't that message which could save lives coming ahead of all the BAN IT NOW, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!! hysteria?
No. We're not grown-up enough in this country to have a reasonable debate about drugs, and the screamiest parts of our press aren't grown-up enough to describe what may well be a complicated situation without yelling the loudest to call for things to be banned, or to warn that things are killers when they may not necessarily be in all circumstances. In Britain, we are trapped in a classroom with Mr Mackey: Drugs are bad, and that's that.
Professor David Nutt is one person who tried to talk reasonably about drugs a while ago as an expert adviser by the Government, and was swiftly jettisoned as his expert advice, expert advice though it was, wasn't the expert advice they wanted to hear. All of a sudden it was "Ooer, he's a bit of a Nutt innit? Do you see?!" and he was doomed. It didn't fit the narrative. He wasn't screeching dire warnings about kids playing Russian Roulette with their very lives. He tried a pharmacological, rather than hysterical, approach. Which failed.
Poor old David Nutt, previously lambasted by Jacqui Smith for daring to imagine a world in which all drugs weren't entirely evil things which kill you as soon as you look at them, tried to hold up his cocktail umbrella against the tsunami recently in the Guardian, before this latest incident:
Is mephedrone harmful? Because its use is so recent there is relatively little evidence on this point, but from its pharmacology we could not make the assumption that it would be completely safe, especially at high doses. Users report effects such as a faster heart rate as one would expect from a stimulant. In the UK, there have been scare stories of mephedrone deaths, but so far none has been proven, though mephedrone was involved in the death of a Swedish teenager in 2008.
The link in that quote from the Nutt piece is broken, but it once went to a story saying that meow meow was "The deadly drug that's cheap, as easy to order as a pizza... and totally legal" - a story in the Daily Mail, I bet you are somewhat unadjacent to the feeling of being surprised to hear.
Because this new panic-porn has been some time coming. There were previous false alarms with meow meow being linked to deaths, but now it is being described as a possible contributory factor - or the thing that definitely killed these people, depending on how frightening you want to make it sound. Earlier this month, Metro confidently reported on how 180 children had been sick off school because of meow meow, although you could see that it wasn't really that clear cut from their own story:
It's not clear how they know - but quick! Make them panic! 180 kids off school! Definitely! We're not sure which school or where, or how they know, or what's going on, or whether it's really 180 kids or just the same kids taking it again and again, but PANIC! Panic now! Panic as if your lives depend on it!
It may, of course, be the case that there really is something dangerous in meow meow, and it'd be foolish to imagine that all the fears weren't founded at all. But how do we know that? And what do we really know? We know that the police think it might be a factor. What does the science say? No-one's referring to science when they talk about this story; they're talking about SCARED PARENTS and ANGRY POLICE and the evil lethal drugs that can kill you, and have definitely killed these people.
I can only see this getting more intense because it's in everyone's interests that it does. The Government will be delighted: they can portray themselves as arbiters and protectors ahead of an election, and ban this sick filth from our streets. All politicians will want to join the snowballing panic before it passes them by, so won't dissent. The cops can make themselves look like diligent protectors, also, seizing these perfectly legal drugs in order to protect us from ourselves. And the press have got a new scare story - our children being killed off by a lethal drug. It's a perfect storm.