The recent media furore about the legal substance mephedrone—dubbed “meow meow” by the media—is another indication of the distance between government drugs policy and scientific fact.
The drug has been blamed for the deaths of 25 young people. But toxicology tests for the recent deaths have made no mention of the substance.
The outcry is similar to that which followed the death of Leah Betts in 1995. The media and the government jumped on the fact that Leah had taken ecstasy the night that she died.
By the time the post mortem came out, “common sense” had already decided that it was the drugs that had killed her.
The reality was that Leah drank over 15 litres of water in a couple of hours, leading to severe swelling of the brain. That level of water intake could have killed anyone.
The government wants to be seen to be “tough on drugs” and the mainstream media is creating yet another moral panic.
But it is the government’s punitive drugs policy which is to blame—it criminalises drug use and forces real education and knowledge into the background.
The banning of substances does nothing to make people safer. It ensures that drugs are cut with cheaper, more dangerous substances, leaving users unsure about what exactly they are taking.
Polly Taylor, who sat on the government’s advisory council on the misuse of drugs, resigned just hours before home secretary Alan Johnson was due to meet with his chief drugs advisor to discuss “meow meow”.
Taylor referred to the importance of impartial advice in her resignation letter to Johnson, saying that science should not be “subject to a desire to please ministers or the mood of the day’s press”.
What we need is a scientifically based, open approach to drugs—not reactionary measures that will result in the deaths of more young people.