framing the discourse of drugs and death

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.

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11 thoughts on “framing the discourse of drugs and death

  1. op

    you never cease to amaze me

    “A little poison now and then, that makes for agreeable dreams. And much poison in the end, for an agreeable death.”
    -Thus Spake Zarathustra

  2. NineFingers

    References to GHB as “The DATE RAPE DRUG” always bother me. If we go by numbers, alcohol is the date rape drug. Furthermore, if we could magically erase ghb (or alcohol) from the fabric of time and space, date rape would still occur with a staggering frequency. Focusing on a tool used during a course of a crime rather than that root cause ultimately serves to perpetuate it.

    People close to kevin (I’ve never met him) were quite adamant that this was not a meth lab, let alone the biggest meth lab in the northeast or some similar nonsense. It’s worth noting that police are frequently A. incompetent (A friend at MIT recently had his dorm room raided and his wood epoxy seized as evidence that he was manufacturing LSD) and B. have strong incentives to overhype their successes.

    I think this is just another case of the cops trying to look good for the public.

  3. Jim

    I am sorry to hear about Kevin. At the moment a young man, Nguyen Tuong Van is awaiting execution for drug trafficing in Singapore. Nguyen is 22 years old and was born and raised in Australia, the child of refugees from Vietnam. Execution is by hanging in Singapore. If no appeal or reprieve is enacted Nguyen will be hanged in a week.
    This is a death from the war on drugs which can be avoided. Please email the High Commission of the Republic of Singapore in Australia Mr Joseph KH KOH appealing for a stay of execution:
    Nobody deserves to die from drugs.

  4. Quiplash (Ryan).

    I don’t know the circumstances of Kevin’s death, but losing a friend under any circumstances is such a painful experience. And I would feel outraged if it was hijacked to fuel a media firestorm.

    I hope that someone can archive his sets of photos of Burning Man from Picasa before they’re gone.

  5. Qwiki

    I am so terribly sorry to hear about your friend. It’s honestly sickening to hear that his death is being used to further the political agendas, newspaper sales and ratings.

  6. Lil Mike

    Be careful in defending the production of illegal substances, and associating yourself in a forum with those that do. This may seem harmless enough, but those that use the law to invade privacy, spread hysteria, stalk and incarcerate users, well…neddless to say they aren’t.

  7. Eugene

    Frostbyte was a friend-of-a-friend, and I’m saddened by his passing. What I find truly amazing about his death was the Frostbyte Wiki set up by his friends as a memorial and a site to coordinate activities around his funeral. Unfortunately (though I imagine necessarily) it is now password-protected.
    – Eugene

  8. redbeard

    Frostbyte? All of the politics aside, what makes me saddest is that kevvy kev kev kev (it’s an old high school year book thing) is no more. Friday night in Charm City a number of us gathered at my house to reminisce about many things, but at one point, we all stopped short and remembered. I am glad to hear your more in depth analysis, and would really like to hear any more about the facts. We were all just so slammed by the news…the cognitive dissonance that was caused by the full accusation was just too much, and I knew there was more. I’d be glad to hear it.

  9. AS

    I didn’t know Kevin well, but I visited his warehouse and knew his art. He was an impressive figure, and it’s tragic that his lifestyle took such a hard toll on his physical being. Kevin and his art will be missed by many.

    Nobody seems to have mentioned that Kevin performed legitimate, above-ground pharmaceutical research. I would have to assume that the piperazine and indole compounds allegedly found in his lab were used for these purposes, besides what else was illicit.

    The following patents list Kevin D. McCormick as inventor:

    6,951,871 Indole derivatives useful as histamine H3 antagonists
    6,849,621 Piperidine compounds
    6,762,186 Substituted imidazoles as dual histamine H1 and H3 agonists or antagonists
    6,720,328 Non-imidazole compounds
    6,051,575 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    6,034,251 Phenyl-alkyl-imidazoles
    5,981,520 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    5,968,929 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    5,892,039 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    5,869,488 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    5,840,725 Substituted oximes, hydrazones and olefins as neurokinin antagonists
    5,795,894 Piperazino derivatives as neurokinn antagonists
    5,783,579 Spiro-substituted azacyclic-substituted piperazino derivatives as neurokinin antagonists
    5,696,267 Substituted oximes, hydrazones and olefins as neurokinin antagonists
    5,691,362 Substituted benzene-fused hetero- and carbocyclics as nuerokinin antagonists
    5,438,130 Fucosylated guanosine disulfates as excitatory amino acid antagonists
    5,185,365 Insect deterrent azamcrolides

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