I think that it’s worth pointing out that the way the media have handled mephedrone has been generally pathetic. This is not wholly a surprise, because the way the media handle any drugs story tends towards the pathetic.
Part of the poor handling of the mephedrone story probably has something to do with the fact that its acquired for itself some very silly nicknames: “Meow-meow” is the one that’s been targeted by most news sources. I can’t help thinking of the first couple of minutes of Chris Morris’ Brass Eye on drugs here. I mean: you can go from “meow-meow” to “clarky cat” very quickly.
Nevertheless, while the silly names perhaps make the story marginally more interesting to the press, it’s also not wholly clear whether that same press realises just how ripe for parody it’s made itself. For example, The Times ran a story on mephedrone in January under the headline “Is Meow Meow the new Ecstasy?“, which has been lovingly parodied here, on the b3ta main board.
But the Sun has gone one better, and parodied itself with its headline “Legal Drug Teen Ripped his Scrotum Off”, which tells how
a police report – some of which was based on online forums about the drug – revealed a lad in Durham had tried to rip off his testicles after taking it.
The Durham Police report states: “A large number of contributors state how addictive mephedrone is and they are constantly topping up as one individual states that after using it for 18 hours his hallucinations led him to believe that centipedes were crawling over him and biting him.
“This led him to receive hospital treatment after he ripped his scrotum off.”
Still, the story has garnered this wonderful comment, which I suspect won’t remain visible for too much longer:
This is awful and so obviously true because the cops based their facts on online forums. There’s no surer way of establishing facts, ask any police officer. Anyway, when I took mephedrone my entire right leg turned inside-out for six hours. It only went back because I poured milk over it, continuously, through a funnel.
The person who made that comment ought to be given a prize.
But enough of the pointing and laughing. This is actually a serious matter, becasue the way stories about drugs are handled inform the way that the public thinks about policy; and the way the public thinks has an influence on what policy will be. That both Labour and the Tories are talking about regulating legal highs today clearly has something to do with the looming election. Yet what the public really needs if its going to have a role, howsoever indirect, in the formation and implementation of policy – subtle, disinterested, nuanced analysis – is precisely what’s not on offer here; nor has it been on offer for quite a while: recall the Daily Fail‘s oh-so-achingly-funny “Nutty Professor” gags a little while ago.
For as long as people are dying because of what they’ve ingested, there’ll be a serious need to think seriously about whether we’re approaching drugs policy in the right way. Media feeding-frenzies in the wake of a couple of deaths from a drug with a stupid name, though, aren’t helping.
UPDATE: Anton Vowl’s analysis is, as ever, worth reading.