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'A thing of Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.'

 

"Talk To Frank" Staff Dumber Than Pithed Frogs (9/13/03)

 

     When the UK government put up a new site claiming to give reliable and impartial information on drugs, I had a fleeting hope that they might actually do just that. I was quickly disillusioned by a site riddled with factual errors (such as the claim that ergot fungus makes LSD) and liberally draped with threats of arrest if you use or are even around drugs. While they have cleaned up some of the more blatant stupidity, one grand-champion example of researcher incompetence remains: On their 'ecstasy' information page, they claim that 'ecstasy' tablets may contain MPTP.

     MPTP is something of a legend as drugs go. Once upon a time, a couple enterprising fellows decided to cook up a batch of a synthetic opiate called meperidine. Unfortunately, they screwed up the synthesis and the resulting batch was contaminated with MPTP...a fantastically selective poison that kills dopamine neurons. They started to use the batch of meperidine and developed symptoms of Parkinson's disease (tremors, paralysis, etc.) Doctors eventually figured out what had happened, and the rest is, as they say, history. (MPTP has actually become a valuable research tool, since you can cause Parkinsonism in lab animals with it (and then try to develop treatments for the disease.))

     MPTP has only been found to be accidentally produced in meperidine on that one lone occasion in a single illegal lab (real pharmaceutical companies continue to manufacture the drug.) I can find no evidence that any pill sold as 'ecstasy' has ever contained meperidine, much less MPTP-contaminated meperidine (which again, appears to have only occurred once.) So, why would they claim that 'ecstasy' pills sometimes contain MPTP? Well...both drugs have four-letter initials starting with an 'M'. This seems to have caused some confusion among the 'the popping of my Rice Crispies tells me what to do' crowd. (There have also been a few journal articles that discussed both drugs in the same article, but you'd have to have a lot more than coffee in your system to imagine a connection from that.)

     Granted, such staggering examples of drug-warrior incompetence are hardly new. After all, if they actually understood drug pharmacology as well as they understand fishing for deep rectal itches with carrots they wouldn't be so vehemently anti-drug. So, I politely told them the error of their ways. I was ignored. I less politely told them they were making fools of themselves, pointing to the literature. I got an apologetic e-mail telling me that the error would be remedied. Weeks went by. Months. And nothing was changed. I can imagine the meeting when my complaint was discussed:

     "Uh, this guy says we're wrong."

     "Who?"

     "Just some sort of druggie."

     "Does he have a £3 million budget just for advertising, like we do?"

     "Not that I know of."

     "Then he must be wrong. The government gives us the money, so after all, we must be right. They don't give money to just anybody."

    After a little complaining about the weather and the agonies of deep rectal itches I imagine they forgot about the whole thing. You might think of this as my idea of a formal protest.

 


Pith: v. To incapacitate an animal by scrambling it's brain and/or spinal cord with a dissecting needle.

 

Postscript: Perhaps half a year later, the staff of Talk To Frank did respond to my complaint with a form letter saying that they apreciated my feedback and would look into it.  To date (almost three years later) none of the outrageously inaccurate information on the site has been corrected.