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Spouting authority with no actual knowledge? Par for the course really - Tactical Ninja

Apr. 8th, 2014

09:53 am - Spouting authority with no actual knowledge? Par for the course really

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Last night, Dr Wheel and I went to a recruiting seminar for a religious cult. Well, technically, he was invited but I crashed it by telling them my husband was inside. Part of the show was a demonstration of martial arts, in which random blowjobs were used to win fights. It was surprisingly effective.

The weird part was that I was sure we had been there before. Visiting a cult recruitment drive sounds like the sort of thing we might do in real life, just to see what it was about, so when I woke up I actually asked him if we had done such a thing.

Him: I'm pretty sure I'd remember the blowjob part.


As you probably know, I've been tracking the media that surrounds the legal high industry in New Zealand since 2010. For those that aren't aware, last year New Zealand introduced legislation that allows for the legal sale of new psychoactive substances, in an effort to curtail the cat-and-mouse game that has been played since the introduction of BZP in the late 1990s. The way that went:

1. New substance is introduced.
2. New substance is banned.
3. Slightly different new substance is introduced.

Each time we go round this track, the substances are moving incrementally further away from anything that's been tested or widely used, and the safety of them has become more and more uncertain. Under the new legislation, there is a testing procedure required before substances can be sold, so it goes like this:

1. New substance is introduced.
2. Testing takes place to establish risk.
3. New substance is only sold if proven to be low-risk.

Now, there are a lot of problems with this legislation, not least of which is that the group assessing the risks involved does not include any experts in drug policy. However, in my opinion it's a step in the right direction. We're currently in a changeover period - there were a lot of things available when the law was made, and the government did not want to blanket ban them all and continue the cat-and-mouse game. Instead, they said that anything currently being sold must be submitted for testing immediately, but may remain on sale until testing is completed, unless there are reports of harm in the meantime.

Fair enough, I say. The problem is, there's a big gap between what the government counts as 'reports of harm' and what the media reports as harm. I have watched the media reports as they are published (through a simple google alert that spots 'legal high' in the national news aggregator Stuff). As a summary, very few have contained substantiated reports of harm. There have been some that have doctors and emergency rooms talking about people presenting with problems, but sadly when it comes to quoting actual figures, they are low on statistics and high on conjecture. "More than usual" and "clearly he was high on something" are the sort of words used.

As time has gone by, these reports have led to a general belief among the public that legal highs are the new P*. Funny thing is, even P wasn't/isn't as harmful as the media made out, and the extent of the problem nowhere near as big as was implied. Sound familiar?

So anyway, now we have a situation where people are marching in the streets to have the substances banned, and shops that sell them closed down. There was an organised national march this weekend. In some places as many as 100 people turned out. Here are three news reports that came through my alerts last night. You'll note the terminology used within them:

"young mums showing up in Tokoroa with babies as well as an old man in his 70s trying to get a fix"

"One of the children looked very unwell."

"People are going to hospital with brain damage"

Recovering addict Rachel Klinkhamer,..."

"synthetic drugs were "way more addictive" than anything she had seen" - quote from some random person in the protest.

"People are dying from using synthetic cannabis."

"Her blood tests came back showing she had synthetic heroin in her system."

"Families are breaking up and the people using these things become violent"

"this is more about protecting our children rather than putting down users"

All of these quotes are from random people who were marching in the protests. None of them are substantiated, and if you look at the language used, you see YOUNG MUMS and BABIES and FIX and BRAIN DAMAGE and ADDICT and DYING and HEROIN and BREAKING UP FAMILIES and VIOLENCE and WON'T ANYBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!

The thing is, there is no evidence of brain damage caused by synthetic highs. There have been no deaths attributed to legal highs. There is no evidence that they are addictive. Children look sick when they have colds. Families break up all the time, for lots of reasons. But placed in this context, these words stir up emotions that cause people to become polarised on the topic of these substances by comparing them with things that we know to be harmful and using children as a lever.

Synthetic pot is apparently the new heroin, yo (top tip - it isn't really). But the thing about heroin is that it only started to become a real problem in societies, one that was centred in the poor and marginalised communities, after it was prohibited - after access to it became expensive, difficult and involving criminal activity. And this is what people are advocating doing with the synthetic highs that our government is currently working to regulate.

If this moral panic succeeds in achieving another ban, we will be back to square one in terms of how to deal with new psychoactive substances. And that means the cat-and-mouse game will continue. Either that or they'll blanket ban everything and we'll end up with 300 'new heroins', all available on the black market for way more cost and with way less regulation, supervision, and access to health interventions than we do now.

Way to go, Think Of The Children Brigade.

(i am snowcrash in those comments by the way)


And the saddest thing of all about all this is that some substances that have had several thousand years of user testing with minimal risk of harm associated, are already banned and there's 'no chance' according to our government that they'll be given the opportunity to prove their safety through testing and become legal.

*headdesk*

On another note, the Finnish word for cat is kissa. The Finnish word for smooch is pussata. Coincidence? I think not.

* NZ term for crystal meth.

Comments:

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From:pombagira
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:25 pm (UTC)
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yeah.. i have seen this on stuff over the last few weeks.. its disterbing.. and has made me very dissapointed in the qualitity of reporters.. i also wonder if, because of this stupid reporting, that more people are getting their 'news' from else where.. mind you that could be wishfull thinking...


*ponders this*
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From:tatjna
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:27 pm (UTC)
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I commented on one of those articles, talking about the development of a moral panic through media, and suggesting that maybe 'young man uses synthetic pot, has a good time and no subsequent problems' is not considered to be news. Going on to say that maybe this has had a role in the general populace's view of such things.

Oddly enough, that is the only one of the three comments I left that hasn't made it through moderation yet.
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From:pombagira
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:33 pm (UTC)
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yeah.. i am alwasy suspious of stuff.. god forbid you leave a thought full comment.. i think it shows that you are not a stuff commenting national voter.. *coughs*... thus it will not be allowed though... *coughs*

keep the people stupid it makes them eaiser to maniuplate with bullpucky..

opps ranting...
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From:tatjna
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:36 pm (UTC)
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To be honest I am not sure the media is deliberately creating panic because of any underhanded agenda - unless that agenda is to get more clicks from outraged people.

The result, however, is the same - misleading headlines, emotive language, unsubstantiated 'facts' quoted. And the people reading it take action based on that.

To me it seems thoughtless on all sides, and most people don't care enough to investigate further.
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From:pombagira
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
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true that....

*nods*
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 12:57 am (UTC)
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OK so that comment has now been published. Someone responded that my view that LSD and pot may have been misrepresented in their respective media of the time, suggests I have been partaking in said substances.

A well-reasoned debate, sir. I stand corrected.

Not.

Edited at 2014-04-08 12:57 am (UTC)
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From:pombagira
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:04 am (UTC)
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ohh.. Lord haw haw.. quite the chap there.. as for the other comments..oh my eyes...

:)
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:06 am (UTC)
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I am surprised by the number of comments (when collated) that call for legalisation of cannabis as an alternative to this stuff.

Oddly, you don't see the same people marching in the streets in support of that.
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From:pombagira
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:07 am (UTC)
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also.. i keep on wondering why they pass over the harm and death caused by Alcohol, its way higher than legal highs.. *sigh*.. its like brain washing of a sorts.. kinda fascinating in a trainsmash way
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:10 am (UTC)
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But alcohol is different, it's used responsibly by lots and lots of people! It's been around for a really long time.. ..oh wait.

Alcohol only missed being lumped with the first lot of drug prohibitions because back then it was classed as a food - back when the working class often didn't have access to clean drinking water. That's pretty much it.
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From:fbhjr
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:41 pm (UTC)
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The start of this made me wonder if I was missing a different definition than what we use here in the US. But, I guess not from the reaction...

In the US everything is illegal unless they legalize it. That's not really a good way to do it either. I haven't seen any place that seems to do a really good job with it.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 7th, 2014 11:51 pm (UTC)
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There's been some interesting stuff happening in Portugal since they decriminalised everything about 10 years ago.

In a nutshell, the age of first use of cannabis has gone down slightly, the overall use of heroin has plummeted, and drug related harm in general has reduced significantly. It's obviously more complex than that, but it seems that moving away from blanket prohibition has the best chance of reducing drug-related harm overall.
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From:bekitty
Date:April 8th, 2014 12:39 am (UTC)
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"Synthetic heroin"? You mean, something like codeine? Because if that's the case, then I've got synthetic heroin in my system.

Edited at 2014-04-08 12:39 am (UTC)
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 12:42 am (UTC)
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To be honest I could not work out what that person was trying to say. I mean, I know it's possible to become addicted to synthetic opioids, but what that has to do with legal highs I do not know.
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From:bekitty
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:06 am (UTC)
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Weeeeeelllll... you can get them over the counter legally.

... yeah, it's a stretch. :P
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 01:08 am (UTC)
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I'm guessing the kid was actually addicted to synthetic opioids she got illegally from somewhere, and when called on her behaviour blamed the legal highs so she'd get in less trouble. Mum, being uninformed and having read the media around legal highs, jumped on the bandwagon.

But how hard would it be for anyone to investigate this and find out that synthetic opioids are not available through legal high shops?
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From:tedwords
Date:April 8th, 2014 03:32 am (UTC)
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Well, wait...can you please go back to the random blowjobs used to win fights? Please? What cult is this...I may need to join...
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
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I don't know but it was based in Masterton (home of the Golden Shears!) and seemed to attract a lot of lawn-bowls types and happy-clappy blowjob-giving martial artists.

I'm sure if you asked around...
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From:clashfan
Date:April 8th, 2014 04:39 pm (UTC)
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You know I'm in favor of legalizing a lot of things. But crystal meth is not harmless. I've worked with kids addicted to it, and it's tough to watch. Hard to kick, too. I'd rather deal with a belligerent drunk than someone coming down from meth.
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From:tatjna
Date:April 8th, 2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
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"Not as harmless as the media implies" does not equal "not harmless". I really wish people would stop drawing this false dichotomy.

No drug use is without risk (but you knew that). Methamphetamine is ranked fourth in the most up-to-date scale of drug harms currently available. Personally, I think any drug that acts mainly on the dopamine system carries more risk because of the well-documented redose compulsion and the tendency towards bingeing that can lead to psychosis (also well documented) and potentially (reversible) brain damage. It's one of the few drug (along with alcohol) that actually has shown to change the brain.

However, it is still not as harmful as the media of the time implied, and in New Zealand at least, the scale of the problem nowhere near as big. And the harms associated with its prohibition are simply piled on top of those associated with its use - they make it worse, not better.

Edited at 2014-04-08 07:31 pm (UTC)
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