Last week, a friend of many of my friends died. Frostbyte (Kevin McCormick) was a brilliant light artist whose live should be celebrated. Unfortunately, the circumstances of his death have introduced some troubling conversations about drugs and production. What is most horrifying is how it has been taking up by the media; i can’t help but watch the news clippings with absolute horror.
What we know is that when police officers investigated Warehouse 23, they found an array of chemicals and glassware. According to the Herald, “Police say they found hundreds of chemicals used to concoct club and date-rape drugs such as crystal methamphetamine and ‘Special K.’ … Investigators found chemicals used to manufacture crystal meth, ecstasy and the date-rape drugs gamma hydroxy butyrate (GHB) and ketamine hydrochloride (‘Special K’).” In response, the “state Senate passed a bill that would prohibit consumers from buying more than 9 grams of pseudoephedrine at a time” and the Fort Point district was closed down to investigate (Globe). In much of the coverage, the lab is being called “impressive” and the Northeast’s largest. (And of course, then the articles discuss the fear and horrors of crystal meth.)
There are three different things that are bothering me about what’s going on. First, producing meth is very different than producing GHB. Meth labs are highly toxic (and thus the reason for the hyper panic involving the closing down of Fort Point) because they produce byproducts; they also usually involve large containers, not glass vials. The coverage focuses entirely on the presence of chemicals for meth; there is no mention of byproducts. Interestingly, the chemicals for meth are also used in producing other drugs (both legal and illegal). If this were a large meth production house, there would be byproducts, not just potential chemicals. This itself made me very wary of the information i was getting.
Based on information about the presence of chemicals, it has been taken as a given that this is a meth lab. The result is a moral panic in Boston which the legislature responds to by passing laws that do little in the way of stopping meth production. So much for innocent until proven guilty or logical outcomes. What role does the press have in actually determining someone’s innocence or guilt? I get very very worried about this. What’s worse is that when the police realize that it’s not a meth lab, it won’t hit the papers, laws won’t be turned back. Everyone will continue to be convinced that it’s a meth lab. Gah.
Finally, i can’t help but scream when i see the press cover GHB as a “date-rape drug.” (And since when did ketamine become a date-rape drug too?? It requires snorting or injection!) This framing presumes that the reason to produce this drug is to engage in date-rapes, supporting the moral panic. Unfortunately, i don’t think that it would be nearly as news-flashy to talk about GHB as the “alternative to alcohol with no hangover.” GHB has a lot of problems and it makes me very nervous to see it in clubs because the OD dose is not that much higher than the desired dose. The bigger problem is that you cannot under any circumstances mix it with alcohol because this will most definitely produce a black-out (and thus, the “date-rape” claim). That said, most people who make or use GHB know this, prefer it to alcohol and know better than to mix the two. To assume that it is a precursor to rape is misrepresentative and irresponsible. Internally, i’m troubled by this framing. On one hand, it’s inaccurate and what happened to truthful reporting? On the other, i detest the presence of GHB in clubs and i understand the urge to use scare tactics to keep it out.. but does that really work? And what damage does poor reporting cause in the long run? (::cough:: This is your brain on drugs… Oh no it’s not.)
I’m worried about how much power the press has over cultural interpretations. I see a lot of my friends hurting right now, trying to come to peace with the death of their friend and cope with the chaos that has ensued. And while some things make sense, much of what is being reported does not line up. Furthermore, it’s being used to frame a larger debate in a pretty problematic way. And it sucks to having the death of one of your friends be used to such ends, particularly when he wouldn’t have wanted it that way. Some folks are outraged, arguing that we should make certain that such situations never happen again. Personally, in the back of my mind, i can’t help but think that i’d rather die having sex on E than decaying alone in a nursing home.
Update: Globe reports that it is not a meth lab but that it was most likely used to create designer (psychedelic) drugs.