Thursday, 27 September 2012

The minefield that is alcohol and other drugs ...

There is no easy way of dealing with the topic of alcohol and other drugs. Over the years I have been called a 'promoter of drugs' (once actually being accused of contributing to the 'killing of young people' with the messages I was promoting in schools!), as well as being an 'anti-drug crusader' (a term I particularly dislike - it sounds like I should be wearing a cape and flying through the sky ...) ...it really is extremely difficult to get the balance right - you simply can't please everyone!

A book has recently been published in the UK by Professor David Nutt who has found himself right in the middle of the debate a number of times in the past year or two. Once the leading advisor to the UK Government on issues around drugs, he was sacked for, amongst other things, comparing the harms of taking ecstasy to that of horse riding! The book, Drugs: Without the Hot Air, has been described as written in "straightforward language" and "explores the science of what a drug is and how it works, why people take drugs, and how it affects them."

 I haven't read the book but do plan to as soon as I can get my hands on one. I certainly don't agree with everything that Professor Nutt has been quoted in the media as saying, but an excerpt of his book that has been made available on the Internet is very powerful. See what you think ....

"A terrifying new “legal high” has hit our streets. Methyl-carbonol, known by the street name “wiz,” is a clear liquid that causes cancers, liver problems, and brain disease, and is more toxic than ecstasy and cocaine. Addiction can occur after just one drink, and addicts will go to any lengths to get their next fix – even letting their kids go hungry or beating up their partners to obtain money. Casual users can go into blind rages when they’re high, and police have reported a huge increase in crime where the drug is being used. Worst of all, drinks companies are adding “wiz” to fizzy drinks and advertising them to kids like they’re plain Coca-Cola. Two or three teenagers die from it every week overdosing on a binge, and another 10 from having accidents caused by reckless driving. “Wiz” is a public menace – when will the Home Secretary think of the children and make this dangerous substance Class A?"

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Parental supply of alcohol and adolescent drinking

A great paper has just been published by Australian researchers that attempts to sort out whether there is an association between between parental supply of alcohol and risky drinking.

The authors tested two hypotheses - firstly, that minors whose parents supply them with alcohol per se have increased odds of risky drinking, and secondly, where supply occurs for drinking without parental supervision, the odds of risky drinking are greater again.

They found that 'risky drinking' was common within their sample and increased sharply by school year. Their first hypothesis was not supported, however students whose parents supplied them with alcohol for consumption without parental supervision had four times the odds of risky drinking.

What does this mean for parents? Is there a simple message here? To be honest the study has a whole pile of limitations but it does seem to suggest that the practice of giving your child a couple of drinks to take to a party is most probably not appropriate. One statement made by the authors is particularly important - "it is critical to note that supply for drinking under supervision did not have the protective effect that may have motivated the behaviour."

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Ecstasy deaths and warnings

I was contacted by a Brisbane journalist on Friday regarding an ecstasy-related death that occured last weekend. He had already interviewed a young woman who had been at the house party where the young man had died and she she too had experienced severe effects and found herself hospitalised. There was also a great deal of conversation on social media sites and web-based chat rooms about a possible 'bad batch' of ecstasy.

The journalist was keen for me to provide some information on a substance known as PMA - a toxic form of amphetamine that has been found in ecstasy pills across the world than has led to a number of deaths. He also asked me to give my opinion on why no warnings had been issued by either health or law enforcement authorities even though someone had died after taking what was obviously a 'bad pill'.

In all my years of working with the media the one story that ended up causing me the most grief was when I made comment on an ecstasy-related death and it was written up that I was stating categorically that the tragedy was caused by a specific substance. I made no such claim but rather was asked questions about a particular drug and gave the journalist the information she requested - of course, that was not how it was written up!

As you can imagine after that experience I was very hesitant to comment on this tragedy. There have been no toxicology results and therefore we don't know anything about the substance that may have contributed to the young man's death. We are really assuming so much and that can get you into real trouble.

Authorities are really 'stuck between a rock and a hard place' here. To issue a specifc warning about a drug without knowing anything about it is fraught with problems. Many ecstasy users don't believe health authorities and law enforcement anyway, if a warning is issued and then found later to be inaccurate, it will only reduce the credibility of any warnings that may be released in the future. If they don't do something and there is another death, the media will be savage.

It will be interesting to see what happens next. There were a 'cluster' of ecstasy-related deaths in Canada earlier this year that were related to PMA. Authorities certainly do need to make sure this death is examined quickly and if specific warnings are needed, issue them in an appropriate way by credible authorities.