Mephedrone: Watching a Moral Panic unfold

A Moral Panic, according to Stanley Cohen, occurs when “[a] condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests.” The fear of the unknown or new writ large across a society, sparking attacks on paediatricians and the avoidance of those who go hooded.

In the past this country has suffered moral panics about all sorts of disparte groups. We witnessed one at the start of this Millennia involving asylum seekers. You must remember stories like the utterly flacious one run by The Sun about asylum seekers eating Swans? (Richard Littlejohn certainly does, except he really thinks its true).

Asylum seekers were no threat to the UK but an election was fought over them and restrictive immigration Act after restrictive Act was passed to “combat” the threat they posed.

Similar moral panics have occurred in the past about Teddy Boys, Jews and Computer Games. I think we can add Mephedrone to the growing and ever more incongruous list.

I have been paying attention to Mephedrone since Gabrielle Price died. She is often referred to in reports as one of the first deaths related to the mephedrone but her death had nothing to do with mephedrone. She died of  its a fantasy designed to spread a panic.

Mephedrone is a drug similar to MDMA, what you get in Ecstasy pills, if your pills are pure that is. It is often sold as “plant fertiliser” in order to sidestep drug control laws. This has led to some morons police spokesmen referring to it as “plant fertiliser” which is “not for human consumption.”

It cannot be reiterated enough that this is as fertilising for your plants as Ecstasy is, and that it very much is produced for human consumption. Again this inaccuracy can only spread panic; our children are taking plant fertiliser, oh the degeneracy of youth!

The intensity of the lying is also interesting. The above two errors I suspect are down to sloppy researching and the ever shrinking space journalists have to do their jobs properly and research things – that and plain stupidity.

The really infuriating stuff has been covered here by Septicisle, and is of a more malevolent and dangerous tone. Out with the tenuous links to the death of a schoolgirl and in with total and easily falsifiable bunkum.

Septicisle points to the nonsense on stilts leader which the Sun splashed across its inside pages.

SCHOOL heads are furious at the Government shambles over killer party drug meow meow.

Teachers seize stashes but have to return them because there is no law against the lethal substance.

This is nonsense as Septicisle effectively demonstrates in his excellent post. But it is trademark moral panic material with the all important inclusion of a SCHOOL, full of CHILDREN.

One way I have been keeping tabs on mephedrone is to set up a Google Alert. This scans Google News and forward any related stories direct to your inbox – something no mainstream journalist has been doing it seems. One thing I’ve noticed in the last few days is that all my e-mails are jam packed with stories. [1] So I made this below graph. Ladies and gentlemen, we are entering moral panic territory.

Qualitatively, we have nonsense stories about mephedrone being cut with Crystal Meths, repeated lies about a dead school girl and a total misunderstanding of the topic at hand.

This is not to mention the repeated and unfounded lie that teachers could not confiscate mephedrone, when they always could, always would, always should and always will.

Quantitatively, I have charted an unprecedented rise in the number of stories reported and picked up by my slightly inadequate but consistent search.

Moral panics are rarely ignored in the age of “something must be done” politics; this drug is going to be made illegal. The first scientific trial is only just underway but in the most important sense its findings will be solely academic.

Likewise, a Mixmag survey has reported mixed but interesting findings on the side effects of taking the drug; but it will have little bearing on how this drug is treated.

There’s been little or no research done on mephedrone. We asked users if they’d experienced any side effects after using it

67% had experienced excessive sweating

51% headaches

27% nausea

43% palpitations

15% cold or blue fingers

Still, only two deaths have been officially caused by Mephedrone, one in Sweden and one in Hove. Yet countless others have been linked with it preliminary only to disappear into the ether once any facts emerge.

We are beyond the point of fact and are well into moral panic territory.

Perfectly reasonably view such as those of David Nutt will not be heard. He suggests that it would be safer to hand out MDMA or mephedrone in clubs with guidance on safe usage but he is instead portrayed as a loon.

However, both MDMA and mephedrone appear significantly safer than alcohol. Consider this. each year alcohol causes about 8,000 deaths. In the roughly 18 months mephedrone has been popular it has caused one death whereas alcohol has caused 12,000.

[1] I had the maximum stories set to 10 so that is why the last weeks dates cluster around this upper band. This limit has now been raised to 50 and I  have immediately received at least another 10 stories. A follow up graph is inevitable once I have more data.