#275 Bad Science Drives Drug War Hysteria

Date: Sun, 07 Sep 2003
Subject: #275 Bad Science Drives Drug War Hysteria

Bad Science Drives Drug War Hysteria

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #275 September 7, 2003

As shown in the Washington Post article, below, scientists at Johns
Hopkins University made an unbelievable mistake in trying to find
evidence to support their theory that MDMA, popularly called ecstasy,
is a very dangerous drug.

You can read the original study as published in Science magazine, and
now being retracted, here: http://mdma.net/toxicity/ricaurte.html

But this isn’t even the first time scientist George Ricaurte has found
evidence to damn ecstasy. Ricaurte’s classic paper on MDMA claiming
massive serotonin reductions in ecstasy users which was published in
1998 in The Lancet was then used by the National Institute on Drug
Abuse (NIDA) as the basis of educational efforts against MDMA. Later
and larger studies have failed to confirm the results, and even NIDA
no longer references the study. Just errors, research with an agenda,
or junk science?

But the retraction by Science magazine did not come about without
considerable concern being expressed first. Please see the work of the
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS)

Junk science and errors in research are quickly spread by the media,
quoted by government officials, and used to create the drug war
hysteria that supported the RAVE Act. Now your elected federal
representatives wish to expand on the frenzy with the VICTORY, Ecstasy
Awareness and CLEAN-UP Methamphetamine Acts. And the hysteria extends
to state and local lawmakers.

Harm reduction efforts like those of DanceSafe http://www.dancesafe.org/
are undermined.

And finally, as the sample letter indicates below, when false
information about drugs is spread, users figure it out. They then tend
not to believe anything that is said.

Thus there are plenty of reasons to respond to this story with your
Letters to the Editor. Please do!

Thanks for your effort and support.

It’s not what others do it’s what YOU do


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TARGETS: Versions on this story have appeared in many newspapers. Here
is a partial list of the newspapers, along with links to the articles.
At the links you will find the contact information for each article,
set up so that with one click you can start writing your letter to
that newspaper. Please send your letters one at a time, addressed to
that newspaper, and modified for it. Newspapers expect that the letter
you send is exclusive for them. If they think that you are sending the
same letter to multiple newspapers, they will not use it.

Arizona Republic (AZ) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a05.html

Baltimore Sun (MD) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1341.a09.html

Charlotte Observer (NC) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1342.a03.html

Dallas Morning News (TX) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1338.a11.html

* Detroit News (MI) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a07.html

* Duluth News-Tribune (MN) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1341.a10.html

Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a04.html

* Globe and Mail (Canada) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1338.a04.html

* Grand Forks Herald (ND) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1341.a11.html

* Honolulu Advertiser (HI) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a11.html

* Ledger-Enquirer (GA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a08.html

* Macon Telegraph (GA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1341.a08.html

New York Times (NY) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1336.a01.html

* Newsday (NY) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1342.a04.html

* Oakland Tribune, The (CA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1344.a06.html

Observer, The (UK) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1344.a02.html

* Oklahoman, The (OK) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1342.a02.html

* Plain Dealer, The (OH) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1342.a01.html

San Jose Mercury News (CA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a06.html

* San Mateo County Times, The (CA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1344.a04.html

* Seattle Post-Intelligencer (WA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1344.a05.html

* Tampa Tribune (FL) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1340.a11.html

* Tri-Valley Herald (CA) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1344.a03.html

Washington Post (DC) [below] http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1341.a07.html

Watertown Daily Times (NY) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1342.a11.html

* Wichita Eagle (KS) http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v03.n1343.a03.html

* indicates that the story was from the Associated Press wire service.
Versions and titles may vary.

This news undoubtedly appeared in many other newspapers. Besides the
above, more may be posted at the following URL. And, in time, we hope
to see your published letters listed at the link, also:




Pubdate: Sat, 06 Sep 2003
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: A03
Copyright: 2003 The Washington Post Company
Contact: letters@washpost.com
Author: Rick Weiss, Washington Post Staff Writer


Scientists at Johns Hopkins University who last year published a
frightening and controversial report suggesting that a single
evening’s use of the illicit drug ecstasy could cause permanent brain
damage and Parkinson’s disease are retracting their research in its
entirety, saying the drug they used in their experiments was not
ecstasy after all.

The retraction, to be published in next Friday’s issue of the journal
Science, has reignited a smoldering and sometimes angry debate over
the risks and benefits of the drug, also known as MDMA.

The drug is popular at all-night raves and other venues for its
ability to reduce inhibitions and induce expansive feelings of
open-heartedness. But some studies have indicated that the drug can
at least temporarily damage neurons that use the mood-altering brain
chemical serotonin. Some users also have spiked fevers, which rarely
have proven fatal.

Last year’s research, involving monkeys and baboons, purported to show
that three modest doses of ecstasy – the amount a person might take in
a one-night rave– could cause serious damage to another part of the
brain: neurons that use the brain chemical dopamine.

Two of 10 animals died quickly after their second or third dose of the
drug, and two others were too sick to take the third dose. Six weeks
later, dopamine levels in the surviving animals were still down 65
percent. That led Hopkins team leader George Ricaurte and his
colleagues to conclude that users were playing Russian roulette with
their brains.

Advocates of ecstasy’s therapeutic potential, including a number of
scientists and doctors who believe it may be useful in treating
post-traumatic stress disorder or other psychiatric conditions,
criticized the study. They noted that the drug was given in higher
doses than people commonly take and was administered by injection, not
by mouth. They wondered why large numbers of users were not dying or
growing deathly ill from the drug, as the animals did, and why no
previous link had been made between ecstasy and Parkinson’s despite
decades of use and a large number of studies.

The answer to at least some of those questions became clear with the
retraction, which is being released by Science on Sunday evening but
was obtained independently by The Washington Post. Because of a
mislabeling of vials, the scientists wrote, all but one of the animals
were injected not with ecstasy but with methamphetamine, or “speed” —
a drug known to damage the dopamine system.

The researchers said they discovered the mistake when follow-up tests
gave conflicting results, and they offered evidence that the tubes
were mislabeled by the supplier, identified by sources as Research
Triangle Institute of North Carolina. A spokesman for the company
said last night that he did not know whether the company had erred.

The error has renewed charges that government-funded scientists, and
Ricaurte in particular, have been biased in their assessment of
ecstasy’s risks and potential benefits.

Rick Doblin, president of Multidisciplinary Association for
Psychedelic Studies, a Sarasota, Fla.-based group that funds studies
on therapeutic uses of mind-altering drugs and is seeking permission
to conduct human tests of MDMA, said the evidence of serotonin system
damage is weak.

“The largest and best-controlled study of the effect of MDMA on
serotonin showed no long-term effects in former users and minimal to
no effects in current users,” he said.

Una McCann, one of the Hopkins scientists, said she regretted the role
the false results may have played in a debate going on last year in
Congress and within the Drug Enforcement Administration over how to
deal with ecstasy abuse.

“I feel personally terrible,” she said. “You spend a lot of time
trying to get things right, not only for the congressional record but
for other scientists around the country who are basing new hypotheses
on your work and are writing grant proposals to study this.”

But she and Ricaurte emphasized last night that the retraction had not
changed their feelings about the danger of taking ecstasy.

“I still wouldn’t recommend it to anybody,” McCann



Dear Editors,

Dr. Ricaurte’s motives behind initially publishing this study
suggesting that a common dose of ecstasy might cause brain damage and
Dr. Leshner’s motives in promoting the study must be seriously
questioned. They ignored other studies with humans showing no brain
damage and anecdotal evidence and health data from millions of ecstasy
users over 20 years that have not revealed the magnitude of risk
suggested by Dr. Ricaurte’s studies.

This irresponsible bias on the part of politicians and NIDA funded
scientists undermines efforts to educate young people and adults about
the real risks associated with drug use. It is easily seen for what it
is, dishonest scare tactics, which causes a loss of trust in
authorities. It also puts drug users at greater risk by depriving them
of honest information that enables informed choices that may reduce
the potential harms associated with drug use.

Andrew Tatarsky, Ph.D. Harm Reduction Psychotherapy and Training

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Prepared by: Richard Lake

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