Thursday, January 29, 2009

Another population study negates moral panic about drugs

A large study of over 4,000 "crack babies" in the US has found very little evidence of any effect, reports the New York Times. Yes, effects are there but they are smaller than the effects of other things like alcohol, tobacco or poverty.

I am finding a strong pattern in the "science" around drugs, which is as politically loaded towards prohibition as it could be. While different critics are claiming that 50% to an astonishing 90% of "studies" end up being wrong, the more credible ones are population-based with large samples like the one quoted above.

Meanwhile two NSW children taken away from their parents by DOCS for 13 weeks because the parents occasionally smoked pot have been returned by the courts, reports The Australian today:

"Judge George Palmer said the children had been removed for "no reason whatsoever". Their parents were recreational smokers of cannabis but there was no evidence they had abused or neglected their children."

In another area, at least three population studies I have read about found no evidence that cannabis consumption increases car accidents. Yet small reductive studies of the kind that get people stoned, put them in front of a computer and measure reaction times show slower reactions and this is used as evidence that cannabis causes car accidents. Then there are studies of the kind that inject rats with pure THC to overdose levels and conclude that cannabis is toxic.

Prohibitionists quote these latter kinds of studies endlessly, creating a moral panic about drugs. Yet when I point out to them that all this terrible damage is happening under prohibition, so it is obviously no solution to such problems that do exist, they go silent...

The very conservative Beckley Commission concluded that cannabis did produce a slightly greater risk of car accidents -- about 15x less than alcohol, I recall.

So, are the fines for drug driving about 15 times less than for drunk driving -- just as the fine for exceeding a speed limit by 10k is a lot less than for 80k over the limit? No. 


Anonymous said...

Nine Msn

2 Feb 2009

Police are hunting the supplier of ecstasy to a 17-year-old girl who died of a suspected overdose after collapsing at the Big Day Out music festival.

The teenager died at a Perth hospital early on Monday after attending Sunday's event at Claremont Showgrounds.

Friends of the family told Fairfax Radio the teenager took three tablets after she saw police searching for drugs.

But police said on Monday the girl was dropped off at the showgrounds, which meant she would not have been subject to sniffer dog and police searches carried out at the Showgrounds train station.

A witness told Fairfax she saw the girl collapse near the amusement rides.

"One friend was with her almost trying to catch her as she fell down. She was holding her head and her eyes were rolling back and I think she (the friend) was saying something like 'Get up! Stand up'," the witness told Fairfax Radio.

Police said the girl died from a suspected drug overdose but would not elaborate further.

"I can't confirm what the cause of death is, that is a matter for the coroner to deal with in due course," Assistant Commissioner Dominic Staltari told journalists in Perth.

"Taking illegal drugs is dangerous, the clear message is, don't take (them)," he said.

Temperatures of up to 36 degrees may have affected people, the commissioner said.

"The weather conditions that we endured yesterday were difficult to say the least and it can have varying impacts on people," he said.

At the train station near the event, police made 59 arrests for possession of drugs, including four with intent to sell or supply.

They seized 129 tablets of MDMA or ecstasy, two grams of methylamphetamine, six grams of cannabis, 75 joints and 21 tablets of dexamphetamine.

Eighty-three liquor infringements were also issued.

Big Day Out organisers say they do not condone the use of drugs at the annual event, which it advertises as drug and alcohol free.

It was the first time in the festival's 17-year history that an incident like this has happened, they said on their website on Monday

The Editor said...

Re the Perth tragedy:

We don't know what the poor girl took, or how much of it. Neither did she, as drugs under prohibition are supplied with no information about ingredients or dose levels.

Taking ecstasy has about the same risk as taking an international flight according to the British Home Office. Subtract the PMA and GHB casualties dishonestly listed as ecstasy deaths, and the risk is even less.

Prohibition makes drugtaking more dangerous, as the police never tire of telling us, so prohibitionists to some extent are responsible for every death.

But that hasn't stopped them jumping up and down about this single incident, even as they ignore the hundreds of thousands of pills taken in Australia every weekend with little or no harm.

Sculling a bottle of vodka can kill you too.

Anonymous said...

WA Today

3 Feb 2009

Grief at tragic cost of Gemma's mistak

Friends of 17-year-old Gemma Thoms, who died from a drug overdose at the Big Day Out in Perth, have paid tribute to her on social networking site Facebook.

Gemma died in hospital on Sunday night after passing out during the music festival on Sunday. Witnesses said she took several ecstasy tablets before entering the festival's gates after she spotted police searching people for drugs.

She passed out soon after in 36 degree heat and was rushed to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, where she was pronounced dead overnight.

A group set up to mourn the young apprentice hairdresser, named BDO 09 Tragedy - R.I.P Gemma Thoms, has already attracted some heartfelt postings.

"This beautiful girl made one mistake that cost her her life," the group's administrator Deanne J Prus writes in an introduction.

"I don't believe everyone that overdoses are drug addicts & I'm sure her friends & family will confirm that this sweet girl was nothing like that.

"This is a group to remember Gemma & leave your kind words for her family & remember her."

Friend Bec Doolan's post epitomised the shock felt at Gemma's tragic death. "Holy snap! 3 tablets at a time *shocked*. WHY?! RIP Sweetie xxoo."

Fellow poster Kirsy Simpson echoed the grief. "So sad, there was no need for her to go this way!!!"

Another poster Shannon Reece-Jones wrote: "Sleep softly Gem. Your beautiful soul has been taken way to early!!"

The group has also attracted people who didn't know Gemma, but were no less moved by her tragic death.

"I don't know this girl from a bar of soap but this has really upset me," Tim Philp posted.

He criticised WA Police, who made dozens of arrests for drug possession at the event.

"The WA police need to take some of the responsibility for the death of the girl at the perth BDO," Tim writes.

"Nobody forced her to take the pills, but to not see this coming is pure ignorance. Busting someone with 5 pills at a concert does NOTHING to contribute to the wellbeing and safety of society.

"If the NSW and Vic Police want to put otherwise law abiding citizens thru this crap so be it. It made me proud that Perth cops left the heavy handed approach to recreational drug users to their eastern state counterparts.

"All this appraoch (sic) has acheived (sic) is the tragic death of a young girl and done absolutely nothing to make perth a safer place."

WA Today

Anonymous said...

SMH 5 Feb 2009
And a great cartoon

Miranda Divine

It didn't take long for the usual suspects to blame police for the death of a 17-year-old girl from a drug overdose at the Big Day Out in Perth last weekend.

Friends of Gemma Thoms have claimed she swallowed three ecstasy tablets to avoid police sniffer dogs, and the Greens MLC Sylvia Hale told reporters police should not be "prompting [young people] into activities that you know are going to be dangerous and pose a real risk to their health".

Tony Trimingham, who founded the lobby group Family Drug Support after his son died from a heroin overdose, said: "Probably, if the sniffer dogs hadn't been there that girl wouldn't have died."

Police reacted angrily, saying they seized 145 amphetamine tablets at the concert, which may have prevented other overdoses.

The tragedy has brought out the logical inconsistencies of some of Australia's most celebrated harm minimisers. Trimingham, for instance, on ABC radio this week to promote his new book, Not My Family, Never My Child, declared he didn't believe in the Federal Government's 12-year-old "Tough on Drugs" strategy, which has successfully slashed drug use among young people. Yet he admitted the prevention, education and treatment elements integral to the strategy had been successful.

Promoting his own new book, Paul Dillon, who runs a private drugs education company, said Thoms's death, "brings into question the whole idea of sniffer dogs … I believe we're in the most conservative period that we have seen in my working life. We didn't have sniffer dogs and roadside testing five years ago."

And yet, moments later he declared: "Our illicit drug use is plummeting. Cannabis use has halved …"

Surely this is evidence the Tough on Drugs strategy has turned around decades of rising drug use. The Australian Secondary School Students' Use of Alcohol and Drug Survey shows a significant decline in the use of all illicit drugs, from 18 per cent in 1996 to 8 per cent in 2005, with cannabis the biggest loser, reflecting increased public awareness of its potential for triggering mental illness.

To his credit, Dillon makes this point in Teenagers, Alcohol And Drugs, which contains useful strategies for parents. He appears to have mellowed over the years, perhaps tailoring his message to what parents have come to expect, in light of research showing the ill effects of drugs on teenagers' developing brains.

Contrary to popular belief, "most young people have never tried illegal drugs," he writes. "They have no interest in these substances and they never will." If they experiment, most will do so in their 20s.

Dillon does not believe more young people are drinking to excess, "although it is quite clear that heavy-drinking teenagers are consuming at much riskier levels and at a younger age".

By maintaining a positive relationship with their adolescents - by saying no and setting boundaries, not by being a best friend - parents can have "a greater influence than their kids' peer groups in many cases".

And he urges parents to warn their children about the legal consequences of using drugs. "New policing strategies … have resulted in more young people … being prosecuted for drug offences. Let your child know how being caught using drugs will affect the rest of their life." In other words, tough policing is a deterrent.

Dillon describes the "incredible change in attitude" towards cannabis he has observed in 25 years working in drug education. No longer is it regarded as "cool" but as a "loser's drug".

Ecstasy is the one drug whose use has not been declining, being "perceived by many young people as a fairly benign drug". Deaths from ecstasy are rare, he says, but they do occur, as we saw last weekend. Like any drug, ecstasy can attack weakness in the user, prompting fits, strokes and heart attacks in seemingly healthy people. Ketamine and LSD have also been found in some ecstasy tablets. Methamphetamine use, too, is declining, but "for most parents, the 'ice epidemic' is a non-issue".

Alcohol is the substance most likely to trouble parents of teens, simply because it is more commonplace.

New guidelines to be issued later this month by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council state there is no safe alcohol consumption if you are under 18, and it is particularly dangerous if you are under 15.

This will pose new challenges for parents of teenagers comfortable with previous guidelines, which allowed those over 15 to have a drink under parental supervision.

Dillon's advice is to delay the initiation of alcohol as long as possible. The research is contradictory, "but we know more about alcohol and the developing brain and children under 16 should avoid it".

It is not true that getting drunk occasionally is "just a phase teens go through", and sending that message can be dangerous, he says.

In Dillon's experience, teenagers sometimes need excuses not to drink or take drugs, to "dodge peer pressure".

Among the best: I am allergic to alcohol; I'd love to smoke cannabis but I have an uncle with mental health problems; Dad found out I was drinking last weekend and I'll be grounded if I get caught again.

He suggests parents help their children develop these strategies.

Parents spend the teenage years holding their breath in the hope the spade work they have put in will protect their children when parental influence wanes, and peers and society take over.

The good news is that they have more influence than they may think, especially if the message from those in authority remains strong. Teenagers do not have to become drug abusers and binge drinkers, and most are not.

And last week, I inadvertently said Fiona Stanley was a plastic surgeon. She is an epidemiologist.

The Editor said...

As usual, Devine's whole position is based on bullshit. Just start with this nonsense, word-for word straight out of the current far right prohibitionist bible:

"...Federal Government's 12-year-old "Tough on Drugs" strategy, which has successfully slashed drug use among young people. "

In fact they are smoking less pot and taking a lot more chemicals, as Devine admits later in the piece.

How many thousand people at the Big Day Out? Around 50,000. Now, divide 145 speed tablets by 50,000. Jeez, that's a lot of overdoses they stopped. Typical prohibitionist storytelling.

Anonymous said...

Daily Telegraph

Ignoring the Big Day Out rules

By Kathy McCabe and Gemma Jones

February 04, 2009 12:00am

THE young woman looked wobbly as she followed a police officer into the tent outside Sydney Olympic Park railway station.

It wasn't even midday, yet her unsteadiness was pronounced as the sniffer dog picked her out of the crowd; this punter was peaking way too early in her Big Day Out experience.

Just nine days later, 17-year-old Gemma Thoms collapsed in a friend's arms near an amusement ride at the Perth Big Day Out and died later that night in hospital.

Her friends claim the teenager had taken three ecstasy tablets after seeing police searching festival-goers for drugs near the event.

It is the first time in the festival's 17-year history that someone has died of a suspected drug overdose.

The anti-drug message has been sounded loud and clear to the three million music fans who have attended the event. It's spelt out on the ticket and the Big Day Out website: "Don't presume that the laws of the real world don't apply to the Big Day Out.

Anyone caught holding or dealing illegal substances will be treated the same way as anywhere else.''

While catching the train has been the preferred method of travel to the festival since it moved to the Olympics precinct in the late 90s, on January 23 this year thousands were obviously trying to avoid drug detection by driving.

Many of those who did get caught were even educated about what amount of drugs would get them a caution versus an arrest.

Peter was one of 252 people searched. Inside the ``evidence room'' he looked suitably sorry and surrounded by several other people with their heads in their hands.

Outside, the 28-year-old crowed about winning his freedom to party despite having his joints confiscated.

"Getting caught) is a bit of a joke. I got a written caution and told to be on my way. I sort of expected it,'' he said.

Another 105 people were arrested that day, mostly on drug-related charges, some taken from inside the venue by uniformed and plain clothes police looking for dealers.

For Chief Inspector Josh Maxwell, commanding the operation began before the gates even opened after intelligence indicated 1000 ecstasy tablets may have been buried inside last year.

A search before the gates opened this year unearthed three bottles of alcohol.

"What we are trying to do here is minimise the effect of drugs, we have got a crowd of 55,000 people,'' he said.

He said many young people failed to realise a drug conviction could prevent them from travelling to some countries and would be a blight on their employment record.

"A drug conviction will follow them for the rest of their lives, '' he said.

Big Day Out was the first major festival to attract a heavy police anti-drugs presence.

Inside the Sydney Showgrounds, first-time Big Day Outers held decidedly differing views about whether festivals are synonymous with drugs.

Alicia Kelly, 17, had driven from Nowra for her post-HSC celebration. When asked if she thought drugs were a necessary accessory to enjoy a music festival, she was adamant they are not.

"We're high on life,'' she laughed.

"You are already happy just being here. You don't have to be (on drugs) ...if you need it, you are kinda sad.''

But two 16-year-old girls from Cronulla disagreed: "Yeah, you probably need something to keep going all day,'' one girl said.

Gemma's death this week may have tragically fulfilled the prophecy of some who oppose the overt use of police sniffer dogs at festivals.

Many have expressed fears that first-time festival fans arriving to see a thick blue line and sniffer dogs would panic and immediately consume their drugs.

Another concern is that teenagers are not clear on the safety message that if they get into medical difficulties, they can seek help without fear of arrest.

Big Day Out co-producer Ken West, said backstage in Sydney that he fears the harm minimisation message is getting lost.

"The problem with the overt nature of the police process is it is imperative for us to have a trusting relationship with someone who has taken something; they need to know that if they go to St John Ambulance or security for help, they are not going to get arrested,'' Mr West said.

"We don't judge, we just try to fix the situation. I don't want to have a fatality on our hands because somebody was too scared to seek help.''

The police and Big Day Out face the same frustrations. So why do young people continue to risk their lives and future by taking drugs at festivals?

"They're stupid. Young people will be young people,'' Mr West said.

The Editor said...

That's an unusually balanced article for the Tele. Shame about the silly ending...


"So why do young people continue to risk their lives and future by taking drugs at festivals?

"They're stupid. Young people will be young people,'' Mr West said.

First, the risk is minuscule and would be even less under regulated supply (instead of prohibition).

Second, they take drugs because they provide an extremely good time.

That's two 'elephants in the room' that the media always bend over backwards to ignore.

Anonymous said...

Phelps suspended by USA Swimming, dumped by Kellogg's

February 6, 2009 - 12:49PM

Michael Phelps has been suspended from competition for three months by USA Swimming and has also been dumped by sponsor Kellogg's in the latest fallout from a photo that showed the Olympic great with a marijuana pipe.

USA Swimming also cut off its financial support to Phelps for the same three-month period, effective from Thursday.

"This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero," the federation said in a statement.

"Michael has voluntarily accepted this reprimand and has committed to earn back our trust."

Phelps won eight gold medals in Beijing.

The news comes after cereal and snack manufacturer Kellogg's announced it would not renew its sponsorship contract with Phelps.

The US company said on Thursday that Phelps's behaviour - caught on camera and published last Sunday - was "not consistent with the image of [Kellogg's]".

The company put Phelps's picture on boxes of its Frosted Flakes and Corn Flakes.

Phelps has kept the backing of many sponsors since the photos surfaced in Britain's News Of The World showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe.

Phelps's agent was not available to comment.

Kellogg's said its contract with Phelps expires at the end of the month.

The Editor said...

Poor Michael Phelps.

Dobbed in by a mercenary bastard and now this. It's so stupid.

If the best Olympic swimmer in the world smokes pot, why does no-one question the sanctimonious twats who continue to cast it as the Tool of the Devil?

It has obviously done Phelps no harm.

Actually George Soros could replace Kelloggs as a sponsor, presenting Phelps as the golden boy in his anti-prohibition campaign.

Anonymous said...

Marijuana use may increase the risk of developing testicular cancer, in particular a more aggressive form of the disease, according to a U.S. study published on Monday.

The study of 369 Seattle-area men ages 18 to 44 with testicular cancer and 979 men in the same age bracket without the disease found that current marijuana users were 70 percent more likely to develop it compared to nonusers.

The risk appeared to be highest among men who had reported smoking marijuana for at least 10 years, used it more than once a week or started using it before age 18, the researchers wrote in the journal Cancer.

Stephen Schwartz of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, one of the researchers, said the study was the first to explore marijuana's possible association with testicular cancer.

"This is the first study to look at this question, and by itself is not definitive. And there's a lot more research that would have to be done in order to be more confident that marijuana use really is important in a man's risk of developing testicular cancer," Schwartz said in a telephone interview.

The study found the increased risk appeared to be in the form called nonseminoma testicular cancer. It accounts for 40 percent of cases and can be more aggressive and more difficult to treat, Schwartz said.

Experts are unsure about the causes of testicular cancer, which often strikes men in their 20s and 30s. The disease is seen more commonly in men who have had an undescended testicle or have a family history of testicular cancer.

The disease usually responds well to treatment and has a five-year survival rate of about 96 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.

About 8,000 men in the United States are diagnosed with testicular cancer per year, and there are about 140,000 U.S. men alive who have survived the disease, the group said.

The researchers said they were not sure what it was about marijuana that may raise the risk. Chronic marijuana use also can have effects on the male reproductive system including decreased sperm quality, they said.

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The Editor said...

Another too-long rant cut-and-pasted into this blog. Can't you edit this nonsense down a bit first, Andrew? Please?

Commentary: Wow, a 70% increase in the chance of getting testicular cancer. I'm glad that typical misreporting of statistics came up. Sounds horrific doesn't it?

But look at the facts: 8,000 cases out of 250 million people is 0.000032% of the population. Now add the 70% notional risk factor and you get 0.0000544%.

It's so small as to be negligible. Beware all stories that blandly state risk factors in that fashion.

Meanwhile climbing the mountain K2 has a 27% DEATH rate and it's inherently harmful because of the effects of high altitude on the heart and brain. But no-one has the balls to jump up and down about that.

The Editor said...

The Independent had a more balanced view of this study:

<<< Today's report linking cannabis for the first time with testicular cancer appears to confirm the drug's dangers. But caution is needed. It is a small study and it has shown an association, not cause and effect. For once we can echo the familiar call of academics, that more research is needed.

But in one respect, the link with testicular cancer looks plausible; it is one of the few cancers that has risen dramatically in recent decades, in parallel with the growth in cannabis use. This is not the case for psychosis; there has been no increase in the past 30 years and rates have declined since the mid-1990s.

Nonetheless, concern about cannabis has focused on its impact on mental health. Doctors have been worried for a decade about the effect of the drug on a small group of vulnerable users with an inherited pre-disposition to schizophrenia. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that cannabis smoking increased the lifetime risk of schizophrenia by less than 1 per cent. >>>