60 Minutes Of Ecstasy (Not)

60 Minutes Of Ecstasy (Not)
Posted by FoM on April 29, 2000 at 13:57:20 PT
By Maia Szalavitz
Source: NewsWatch
This week's edition of "60 Minutes II" is a perfect example of why most young people tune out educational messages about drugs and why the media needs to do a better job in covering this area.The hysteria began with the promo which called MDMA (ecstasy) "the hottest trend amongst young people and possibly the riskiest." 
A user was quoted, calling it "the best feeling you ever had." The sensationalism only increased from there.Correspondent Vicki Mabrey went on to claim that MDMA is the "drug that worries law enforcement most" and that it is the "fastest growing and one of the most dangerous." An undercover police officer appeared, his face hidden, saying "Ecstasy is no different from crack, from heroin, from any other drug."Anyone with any knowledge of drug use would have tuned out in disgust right there. While MDMA is certainly not as harmless as many first believed, there is no evidence that it is as dangerous as cocaine or heroin. For one, it is far less addictive - the drug doesn't cause physical dependence, daily use is rare and the overwhelming majority of users stop without treatment as the drug becomes less effective over time. No one kills or mugs people for ecstasy either. In fact, it is known for its calming, peaceful effects.Unlike a lot of the recent coverage of Ecstasy, "60 Minutes II" accurately reported that there have been MDMA-related deaths. However, they were not put in any context. The fact that 40 MDMA-related deaths have been reported in Florida over the last 15 years was mentioned - but no estimates of how many people had used the drug during that time were provided.Europe's experience with the drug was only included to point out that most American MDMA comes from Amsterdam, "the drug capitol of Europe," and to link this status to the liberal Dutch drug laws. No mention was made of the fact that U.S. use rates are higher than Amsterdam's for most drugs."60 Minutes II" also didn't bother to note that despite massive use in the UK for the last decade (it has been estimated by police authorities that 500,000 Brits take the drug each weekend), there have only been 70 documented deaths. Though the exact number of users is unknown, it's pretty clear that the odds of death per use are below the 1 in a million range. And while use has increased in England, the death rate has declined as users have taken measures to reduce risk, according to Dr. John Henry, one of the U.K.'s leading experts on MDMA and former head of the Poison Control Unit for the National Health Service.Any deaths are tragic, of course, and users must be warned about risks - but warnings won't be heeded if they don't jibe with people's experiences. The report was particularly dishonest in the way it dealt with this problem. When the only user interviewed cited the 1 in a million death rate, he was covertly ridiculed by Mabry - as the next segment focused on the MDMA-related death of his best friend. The correspondent didn't mention that this particular user had probably been booked because he had a friend who died: a very cheap way to punch up the idea of the drug's harmfulness.Then, the show went on to discuss MDMA and brain damage. It quoted a professor, Wendell Wilkie, who has written a book about drugs for college students, saying that "MDMA is one of the few drugs that geniunely do cause brain damage."This is true. Cocaine, heroin and marijuana cause brain changes but only through natural regulatory processes - not by damaging nerve cells as MDMA and amphetamines do. While research has found that the changes linked to cocaine, heroin and alcohol can be associated with lasting drug craving and repeated relapses to use, no one really knows what the effect of the damage done by MDMA is. It is certainly not the type of craving and compulsive behavior seen with the 'hard' drugs. All that is known is that in humans and animals, MDMA kills the ends of serotonin neurons and seems to reduce the level of that substance in the brain. Mabry's narration claimed that "serotonin causes mood," (a "fact" that would shock most neuroscientists because the direction and nature of the link between serotonin and mood is far from established) and that "lack of serotonin causes depression" (again, actually a correlation, not a known cause). Wilkie added, "In 10-15 years, I'm afraid we'll have a generation of depressed people."There is real reason to worry about MDMA because the reduction of serotonin seems to be long-lasting, and because similar reductions in this chemical have been found in people who attempted or completed suicide. However, if MDMA use were to cause massive depression among regular users, Europe would in all likelihood have already been hit by such an epidemic, since use there has been common for 15 years.It is certainly conceivable that the effects of damage won't show up until people get older and start losing neurons to the aging process - but it is also possible that those who are likely to have trouble with MDMA-related effects don't take it repeatedly because they find the crash afterwards very troubling. There are numerous case reports of people with MDMA-related anxiety disorders and depression, but these have yet to show the quality of an epidemic either here or abroad. It is particularly troubling that "60 Minutes II" didn't include comments about the problem from the world's leading researchers on MDMA and the brain: Dr. Una McCann and Dr. George Ricaurte, a married couple who are both professors at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.The segment ended with a look at a harm reduction group called DanceSafe, which educates clubbers about ways of reducing the odds of overdose and which tests MDMA tablets to be sure they are what they claim to be. The tips it gives for protection were glossed over by the reporter as "drink water, don't drink too much water," which couldn't possibly help viewers learn about what exactly to do. The last words were given to the drug agent, who said, "Do I want someone to test the drug my daughter is taking or do I want them to take away the tablets and call me?" and to the user who said, "I'll never take that sh-- again."What could have been a real opportunity to explore the potential dangers and the scientific controversies over what this drug does, how it causes harm, how to reduce harm and who is most at risk was lost. Nevertheless, "60 Minutes II" will probably get advertising credit from the Drug Czar's office for producing a perfect anti-drug program.Maia Szalavitz is a Contributing Editor to NewsWatch. Web Posted: April 28, 2000All articles are copyright of Related Articles:Reaction to 60 Minutes II Hit Piece on Ecstasy - DrugSense Ecstasy Spreads - CBS News
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Comment #1 posted by cerebus on April 30, 2000 at 15:31:11 PT
saw the article in question when it aired. honestly im not well educated about mdma other than some reading of oldeer studies on the drug but there was definately a very real spin on it. although id come to expect no less from network news anymore. for my money the only two news shows that do justice to news reporting are nightline on abc and frontline on pbs. pbs definately goes the extra route in realistic news reporting one night at liek 4 am it showed a documantary on the drug war. in this program it showed how the government originally concieved the drug war arguement as drugs are bad because they were immoral and drugs were immoral because they were bad. this is the original premise of the drug war. it was also shown that officials even stated that particularly in the nixon admin the drug war was used to help drive a more devisive divide between surburban whites and inner city blacks. it did an excellent job of showing the other side of the drug war the side that politicians and fear mongers dont want u to see. shame on 60 minutes seems it carries one particular banner for its corporate owners the side that wants to regulate tobacco with drugs now and control what you think and say rather than report facts. 
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