Thursday, September 20, 2007

NZ drug warrior pwned by Dihydrogen Monoxide hoax

The story of new stimulant drug BZP in New Zealand has been a fascinating insight into the clash between public-health pragmatism and drug war politics. After a brief flirtation with efforts to sensibly license and control BZP production and sale, the rabid drug war ideologues have mounted their moral high horses and organised an evidence-free cavalry charge, winning the day for blinkered ignorance.

How informed are these ban-mongers? Well, not very. And here's the proof. (warning: *incoming pwnage*)

One of the chief cheerleaders for bringing BZP within the ineffectual clutches criminal law is New Zealand National Party politician (and former Play School presenter) Jaqui Dean. New Zealand blogger Micheal Earley (and friends) thought they'd see how much Dean really knew about drugs by deploying the Di-hydrogen Monoxide hoax - seeing if he could get her to call for the prohibition on water on the basis that it was a dangerous drug.

First, a brief bit of background:

The particular interest for drug law reformers was that in New Zealand BZP had been placed in a new Class D (appended to the UK-like ABC drug-harm / penalty hierarchy, or US style I-IV drug sheduling system) which allowed it to be legally manufactured and sold under license. The general idea was that it was considered a low risk drug (specifically: relatively safer than other comparable illegal stimulants - 8 million doses consumed in NZ with no deaths) and that bringing it within the existing ABC system of criminal penalties would increase overall harm, both to users and to wider society. The new Class D, established specifically to deal with BZP, offered a regulatory option for control - a sensible mid point between total prohibition and unregulated free markets (something UK ministers know all about).

Unfortunately Dean and her fellow drug warriors, sniffing out an opportunity for some old-school drug war posturing and opposition point scoring, look to have successfully pushed for the drug to get well and truly prohibited after all. Excellent. Now all the kids can go running back to those lovely crystal meth dealers.

Enter blogger Micheal Earley (with accomplices Ben Smith and Will Seal) who contacted Dean suggesting ...

As a strong advocate for the health and wellbeing of the young people of New Zealand, and a firm supporter of your action to ban BZP, I also call for you to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide. In many cases of drug/party pill overdoses reported in New Zealand and overseas, Dihydrogen Monoxide is considered to be one of the contributing factors, and as such, should be classed in the Misuse of Drugs Act. I look forward to your reply and ask you to take strong action.
That anybody is able to obtain ten lites of something as potentially dangerous as di-hydrogen monoxide, legally, is proof that the current government is doing nothing to solve this binge culture and that in fact the statistics have got worse as the years go by.

The DiHydrogen Honoxide hoax, is described on its very own Wikipedia page (which Jaqui Dean's in-depth research failed to uncover) thus:
Dihydrogen monoxide (shortened to DHMO) is a scientific name for water that is relatively unknown to most of the public, used in hoaxes that illustrate how the lack of scientific knowledge and an exaggerated analysis can lead to misplaced fears. "Di" meaning two, and "Mono" meaning single, describes how water is made up of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom The hoax involves listing strictly negative effects of water, such as erosion or drowning, attributing them to "dihydrogen monoxide", and then asking individuals to help control the seemingly dangerous substance.

It was apparently created by Eric Lechner, Lars Norpchen and Matthew Kaufman, housemates while attending UC Santa Cruz in 1989, revised by Craig Jackson in 1994, and brought to widespread public attention in 1997 when Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student, gathered petitions to ban "DHMO" as the basis of his science project, titled "How Gullible Are We?"

Demonstrating the familiar rationality-free drug warrior dedication to ridding the world of evil (sounding) drugs, Dean took the bait, writing to NZ Associate Minister of Health Jim Anderton:

his reply was concise and humiliatingly to the point:

Laughably enough the National Party had previously mocked a NZ Green Party politician caught out by the same hoax.

Many will be aware that this is but the latest installment in a long and distinguished history of drug-war pomposity mocking highjinkery. Lest we forget the immortal Brass Eye drug panic special, featuring David Amess MP describing the terrifying 'bisturbile cranabolic amphetamoid' ... 'made up psychoactive chemical' CAKE:

Of course it's all to easy to laugh at how easily certain tough talking politicians can be lured into making fools of themselves over the drugs issue. But this isn't a joke: these people perpetuate disastrous policies creating havoc and suffering across the globe. It would be more funny if it weren't so tragic. The moral of this story? Drug war politics is all about populist posturing and opportunism. It has nothing, zero, absolutely zip, to do with with science or rational evidence-based policy making.

thanks to Micheal Earley and

more on the UK BZP 'panic' here and Transform's detailed 2006 BZP/piperazine briefing is here.


Anonymous said...

Quality. Although DHMO may be starting to become more well known now. I vote for hydroxylic acid for future scares.

BTW: Cake was Brass Eye, not The Day Today.

Chris Morris fan.

Steve R said...

ah - good spot thanks *updated*

MikeE said...

Hi steve,

As much as I'd love to take credit for this, it was a team operation.

1) it was my idea
2) the emails were written and communicated by Ben Smith (ACT on Campus), and Will Seal (not of Wanaka :-P)

Please however spread this story far and wide.

MikeE said...

Its also worth noting that Jim Anderton is leading the Charge against BZP, and I have in my possession an email where he states taht he would ban Alcahol if he had the chance.

Steve R said...

Thanks for the additional Info Mike (and WELL DONE!)


Iv chucked this story around a few places so it should get some more attention.