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February 2004
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Sorting fact from bad science and government propaganda

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good overview article on Ricaurte’s false ecstasy studies.

The fallout from the mistake has brought not only Dr. Ricaurte’s reputation into question, but also that of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has supported his research for years. “It kind of gives science a black eye because people start to question whether NIDA has an agenda,” says Glen R. Hanson, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Utah and a former director of NIDA.

It’s a good analysis of the situation in a publication that is widely read in the academic world, with some nice digs into the drug warriors:

“I’m now convinced that any information coming out of the government is suspect,” says Ms. Rosenbaum, who is a staff member at the Drug Policy Alliance, which opposes current drug policy. …

“We’ve got megamillions going into the demonization of Ecstasy,” Mr. Doblin says, “and all we need is $5-million to do the clinical trials that will be necessary to provide the data to decide if this drug will be a helpful medicine to many, many people.”

This comes to me via Brutal Hugs and Mark Kleiman, both of whom have interesting posts on the subject.
I was particularly interested in Brutal Hugs’ take on the issue of the importance of better knowledge, as opposed to blanket drug war condemnation, as an necessary form of harm reduction:

If you shouldn’t do several hits of ecstasy every night of Burning Man, can you do three Monday, some acid Tuesday and shrooms on Thursday? If so, where do you schedule the mescalin, the salvia and the meth? And what about the weird drugs with cryptic names you’ve never heard of? Should you take the gelcap filled with brown powder that somebody told you is called Care Bear 53? How about the pill stamped with a skull called “Fuck Me God”?

These questions seem funny, but they’re actual questions people face. And in the absence of answers, they’re just going to wing it. And a bunch of them will mess themselves up. We do honest research into the health implications of all kinds of potentially dangerous recreational activities– from smoking to motorcycling to eating junk food to backpacking in Africa. Drugs are dangerous, but that’s no reason not to find out how to minimize the dangers.

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