This Is Your Brain on Bad Media Coverage—Five Dire Drug Headlines, Just From Today

Aug 16 2016

This Is Your Brain on Bad Media Coverage—Five Dire Drug Headlines, Just From Today

August 16th, 2016

Although media coverage of drugs, addiction and criminal justice is gradually improving, there’s still no shortage of headlines (articles, too) that summon up outdated ideas and regressive stereotypes. Here are five examples obtained simply by Googling the word “drugs” for two minutes this morning.

 

1. Pain Drugs in Pregnancy Tied to Behavior Issues in Kids

Translation: The Fleshy Pods That Incubate Babies Should Chew on Dry Bark for Pain Relief Because Using Tylonol Might Lead To an Adverse Effect on Their Kids That Is Not Actually Measurable! 

Like many articles about scientific studies, this one spends 90 percent of its time walking back the dramatic headline. Although the study in question tracked women’s acetaminophen use and did find a slight correlation with behavioral problems in their kids, the link seems logically tenuous: it doesn’t account for other factors (maybe people who feel more physical pain are more irritable, etc.), and the fact that behavioral issues are difficult to measure and understand.

From the piece:

The study doesn’t prove acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, directly causes developmental issues in children, noted Dr. Hal Lawrence, executive vice president and chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).”Behavioral disorders are multifactorial and very difficult to associate with a singular cause,” Lawrence, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “The brain does not stop developing until at least 15 months of age, which leaves room for children to be exposed to a number of factors that could potentially lead to behavioral issues.

But the headline, relayed across multiple media platforms today, makes it sound like taking Tylenol during pregnancy is a huge risk.

 

2. Drugs: the Root of All Crime?

At this point, even former drug warriors recognize that it’s not drugs, but drug criminalization, that fuels drug-related violence. The reasons are simple (and nicely explained by Johann Hari for the Influence here). People who traffic or deal illegal drugs don’t have government safeguards to protect their business. So they occasionally perform acts of violence to keep everything running smoothly. If you’re a cookie vendor and someone steals from your cash register, you can go to the police. If you deal heroin and a rival drug gang steals your drugs, you can’t go to the police, so you have an incentive to do something very bad to the people who stole your drugs to stop them doing it again.

Legalizing things, and subjecting them to all sorts of annoying federal, state and local regulation, tends to neutralize the role of organized crime, as happened at the end of alcohol prohibition.

 

3. Babies born addicted to opioids has TRIPLED in 15 years as America’s heroin and painkiller crisis escalates 

Newspapers continue to blare the headline that babies are born addicted. This is a total myth. Addiction is characterized by a complex set of behavioral, mental and physical symptoms, which babies do not display. Although drug use during pregnancy may sometimes lead to adverse physical symptoms in newborns, there are scientifically proven ways to ease their symptoms if they show symptoms of withdrawal.

As a side note, when women who use drugs are too scared to get proper medical care during pregnancy because of fears over having their kids taken away, both kids and parents suffer.

 

4. How I Kicked Drugs Without Going Into Rehab

This woman’s personal journey of kicking meth by getting a dog and hitchhiking around the country is pretty great. Of course it isn’t necessary for everyone to go to rehab; most people with addiction recover on their own.

The trouble is, this piece is filled with shaming clichés about addiction:

“One day I woke up. I called my mum crying. I said that I was lost and I didn’t know what to do. She very bluntly said: ‘Look in the mirror Kristy, look at what you have become and when you see that you will know why you are where you are.’ I did. I looked into that mirror that morning and cried. I was skinny. Ugly. Unhappy. I was nothing. I was just a waste of space.”

After she took a good look in the mirror, she proceeded to do the following: “With the help of her stepfather, Ehrlich locked herself away in a hotel room for a week. That was the first step. The next was getting a pet—Rockdog.”

Rockdog sounds awesome! Again, while her personal story is inspiring, the implication seems to be that those people who can’t just suck it up and suffer through without help are lacking some sort of magic willpower. Many people suffering from addiction go through cycles of relapse. Also, not everyone can leave their life to go hitchhiking for a year.

 

5. U.S. Attorney announces efforts to battle drugs in Eastern Kentucky

Finally, an American law enforcement official has decided to start a War on Drugs! Why didn’t anyone think of that before? To be fair, this is not the worst headline in the world. But it’s important to note that continuing to casually use wording like “battle” perpetuates a particularly unhepful militaristic mindset.