Unhealthful News 60 – An hour of CNN offers insight about drug use (no thanks to the health reporters)

I was not feeling so well late this morning and watched CNN for most of an hour.  Brilliant move.  It made me feel worse.  But there were a couple of stories relating to drug use that painted a rather remarkable picture.

The first was about the U.S. moves to ban the manufacturing and sale of a product that is similar to marijuana.  For those who do not know, drug prohibitions ban a particular plant or chemical.  In a society that is governed by laws, the law cannot be written vaguely to include the many close variations that clever people can create (i.e., the law cannot ban “anything that is used similarly to and enjoyed like cannabis”).  So new designer drugs constantly trickle onto the market and are then banned individually.  The reporters talking about the story seemed unaware of this, thinking this was a radical new concept, which they seemed to find amusing.

They reported that the new drug, sold as “Spice”, had a collection of side effects which sounded similar to those from cannabis, and reported that there were reports of it causing emergency room visits and poison control center calls.  Having watched them blather on about the topic for minutes, I was no closer to knowing if there were common negative occurrences and this is a really badly engineered drug, or if they were a few rare exceptions that the government dug up as an excuse for their policies.  There was no mention in the “news” report about whether the drug was actually causing substantial health effects behind the “reports”, was well-liked or just a novelty, or anything else about it.  Of course, since television news seems to consider its job to be to repeat what the government claims, not to question it, I am sure they never thought to ask that.

If you think I am being too hard on the two pretty people who sat talking about this on television, consider this:  The product was referred to as “synthetic marijuana”, a common way to describe these designer analogs.  The member of the chatting duo who was supposed to be the health reporter (to wit, Elizabeth Cohen, Senior Medical Correspondent) was tittering about this for more than a few seconds, saying that it made it sound like it was made from polyester.  So apparently being a “senior” health reporter on CNN means that you think about clothing labels a lot, but did not get through high school science or generally learn the actual meaning of big words.  I guess I should not be surprised.

Meanwhile the better insights about drug use on CNN came from Charlie Sheen, even though he came off as batshit crazy.  Sheen is a much-liked actor who has had a slew of drug problems, with claims of violence and bizarre public rants (I write that because I would really like to think that someone does not already know that and so I have to explain it like I would any bit of arcane knowledge).  He gave an interview to CNN the night before about his current situation, the “serious scandal” that most American news outlets consider to be among the top stories of the day.  That includes CNN, the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in News”, which thought that this was important enough to mention every five minutes.

Sheen offered a couple of interesting insights that were mentioned.  One was his frustration that the term used to refer to drug use is consistently “abuse”.  He protested that this did not allow for the possibility of use that was not abuse.  Given his story, he may not be the right spokesman for this point, but it still shows more insight than the health reporter demonstrated.  Jeff Stier recently made the good point that entertainers should stick to entertaining and not offer health advice.  This is undoubtedly true about such topics as vaccines, but when it comes to being a high-functioning hard drug user, perhaps entertainers can claim some expertise.

The deeper lesson from Sheen’s comments, though was the aggressive contempt he directed at the notion that he should be subject to the same rules as anyone else.  He was not primarily objecting to the suggestion that he is an out-of-control drug fiend by saying that we need to rethink how we judge people who use drugs.  Instead, he was suggesting that someone like him, whatever exactly that might mean, can live wildly if he wants to and is somehow uniquely empowered to escape not just the social/economic/criminal consequences, but also the physical ones.  Of course, this is true to a great extent of television entertainers, including Sheen and the “reporters” who talked to him and told us about “Spice”.  This is probably part of why the reporting is so bad.  When you are one of them, you can get the good stuff, so do not have to worry about synthetics, and the only punishment for being a notorious customer of illicit drugs and sex workers is free publicity, so it is difficult to take the topic seriously.

As a random bit of  contrast, while watching the television I ran across a German print news report (in English) about the scandal that cost the rising star Defense Minister his job, because it was discovered that he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation.  It also mentioned he had been plagued by some events that happened under his watch, the death of a military cadet and a bombing in Afghanistan.  Could it be that somewhere in the world the phrase “major scandal” refers to the downfall of a serious person due to serious problems, errors, or violations, rather than to an entertainer getting too stoned to function.  Oh, and the German article referred to his wife as a “television-presenter”, a term that presumably is meant to clarify that she is not a reporter or analyst, and that she and others understand that fact.  Sigh.

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