Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Teen tragedy reported but the point is totally missed - again

Drugs for sale on the Silk Road site.
Again I found myself shouting at the TV last night as ABC's 7.30 reported on the death of James Munro at Sydney's recent Defcon festival after taking some pills.

His grief-stricken father was featured, saying the things you would expect someone to say in such horrible circumstances.

He and the editors focused the blame on the Silk Road website, now shut down. It seems James had bought his pills there, believing them to be MDMA ecstasy.

James and two friends had driven all night from Melbourne. While waiting in line to enter the festival,  the presence of police with sniffer dogs induced James to take his three pills. Within 15 minutes he was convulsing and later died in hospital after suffering a 42-degree temperature.

James' father thinks his son would still be alive if Silk Road had been shut down two weeks earlier, and he could be right.

But maybe not. The whole story is really about prohibition, and it is very arguable that prohibition killed James Munro. But, as usual, that subject was entirely absent from the story.

The elements of the tragedy are all too common.

The police and sniffer dogs who triggered James' tragic decision to drop a probable overdose of pills are simply the face of prohibition.

The story pointed out that no-one knows what is actually in these illicit substances - very true, but that too is entirely because of prohibition. If the better quality drugs were legal, regulated and properly labelled with dosages - like legal pharmaceuticals - most damage could be averted. What James suffered sounds like an allergic reaction, but to what?

Silk Road, a marketplace for unregulated, unlabelled drugs, also thrived under prohibition, and if it had been shut down earlier James could have obtained his drugs from another site or from the streets of Melbourne, so shutting it down may not have saved the teenager's life. That's also a feature of prohibition - shut down one dealer and several more pop up immediately.

Because most public discourse about drugs, like this story on 7.30, boils down to "Just say no", good constructive advice about safe drug use is hard to find.

The kids drove all night, so they were physically and mentally low before starting an all-day festival on drugs. Properly advised people would know this is not a good idea at all.

To report stories like this without mentioning prohibition is misleading, unbalanced and irresponsible, only perpetuating the prohibition framework that in fact contributes to the tragedies.

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