The moral panic over mephedrone, or meow meow, or Clarky's Cat, or Slip Me On The Thigh With A Big Banana, or whatever you want to call it, continues.
This comes after the deaths of two men were trumpeted by our friends in the screamsheets as being definitely due to the deadly meow meow - yet still the final reports on the deaths have yet to be concluded. In the meantime, a dozen or so people will probably have died from taking heroin, their deaths and the misery for their families going largely unreported. But who cares? Who cares when there's a new bogeyman to scare the kids?
The Evening Standard did an interview with the Government's former drugs adviser Professor David Nutt the other day which I found pretty interesting. It began:
When two teenage boys and a 24-year-old woman die and a new - and, at present, legal - drug called mephedrone is the prime suspect in their deaths, parents inevitably panic.
So the last thing they want to hear is that, in fact, alcohol is probably more dangerous than meow meow, as mephedrone is nicknamed, and is certainly more harmful than a host of other recreational drugs, such as LSD, magic mushrooms, cannabis and ecstasy.
But this is the grim warning from fellow parent Professor David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser.
"For me, as a father with four children, aged 18 to 26, the drug that I know could kill my kids is alcohol. It is the drug that has caused the most damage to my kids' generation and I think we have got to be honest about that," says Nutt, sitting in a modest meeting room at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) - the independent charity, he jokes, "which is responsible for all this".
And it concluded:
These kinds of arguments prompt Nutt to suggest that "some sort of regulated use for MDMA or mephedrone where people, maybe in clubs, could have access to small amounts, safe amounts under guidance" would be better than the current system of banning drugs and forcing them onto the black market.
Presumably, if that is how Nutt feels, then he wouldn't object to his own children trying mephedrone in controlled doses. "If I found my children were taking mephedrone I would do as I always do and tell them the truth," he says.
He has the same attitude with all drugs. "I would say: 'If you get on to heroin, you are at real risk of dying. Heroin, crack and crystal meth are the drugs you really want to avoid and it would be very distressing for me to know you were taking those'. With alcohol I'd say: 'I know you drink but whatever you drink, try to do it in a way where you don't put yourself at harm'. And with other drugs: 'If you are going to use them, just be aware that the harm of criminalisation may actually be more dangerous than the drugs themselves'."
Does this candidness about drugs extend to his own experiences? "I've never tried it [mephedrone] and I've never tried MDMA. I've hardly used any drugs, I'm a bit weedy really. I'm an old man from a different generation. I hardly even smoked cannabis because I get wheezy, but I'm not against people smoking [cannabis]. And I do drink."
As the Government and Professor Nutt have found, the truth sometimes hurts. But there's far more to lose if people shy away from it.
A pity, then, that the headline was:
Because that really isn't quite what David Nutt was saying. I don't think he was suggesting that clubs handed out wraps of mephedrone as you walked through the doors; or if he was then I've got things a little bit wrong.
You might say, oh, but that's the line, isn't it? Can't have a story without a line. But I'd say: how about you treat your readers as if they have something other than cotton wool in that void between their ears, and you imagine they might be able to read what you've got to say without putting a trashy misleading headline like that on the top? Because you know what happens. When one does it, they all do it. And here's the Daily Star:
Though that has been superseded today with a slightly different headline, the slightly less sensational but altogether less grammatical:
Ah well. But the story is still the same, and the implication is the same: This man is saying that clubs should just just hand out mephedrone, like it's sweets. But it's not quite that clear-cut. Adults having access to mephedrone (presumably for sale) in a controlled environment is not the same as that bloke in the gents toilets with the aftershaves and packets of chewing gum handing you a packet of mephedrone with a cheeky wink. It's really not the same thing at all.
But that's how it works. Professor Nutt could have spoken eloquently for a day and a half about the dangers of alcohol or heroin, and the relative risks of mephedrone and other more panicked about substances, and the headline would still have been HE WANTS MEPHEDRONE HANDED OUT IN CLUBS. It's not just the search for the 'line', it's something else on top of that, too, I think; a need to be sensational in the midst of all this panic, to try and ride the wave of hysteria.
A lot of people, unfortunately, will have done just what the Star did: take the headline as the story, when it wasn't like that at all. Can't we have a reasoned discussion on these things? Must it always be a BAN in one pan of the scales or HANDED OUT in the other? Is there really nothing in between for a mature society like ours? Not if you read a lot of what's in the papers, there isn't.