Some really expensive plant fertiliser…

The Australian Institute of Criminology released a report yesterday titled Patterns of mephedrone, GHB, Ketamine and Rohypnol use among police detainees: Findings from the DUMA program. The DUMA, or Drug Use Monitoring in Australia, project interviews police detainees about their knowledge or and experience with various drugs. In this report, the authors asked about some of the emerging drugs, including mephedrone. I wasn’t too surprised to see that only 27% of detainees had heard of mephedrone, 4% knew someone selling it, and less than 1% had used it.

What was less impressive than the actual findings of this research was the quality of the research that informed the literature review. One sentence reads:

Developed originally as a plant fertiliser, mephedrone became a significant public health and law enforcement concern after a number of reports about its apparent link to self-mutilation and, in some overseas cases, death (Fleming 2010).

However, mephedrone was not “developed originally as a plant fertiliser”. Mephedrone has been advertised as a plant fertiliser and ‘not for human consumption’ in an effort by manufacturers to avoid having to comply with legislation that regulates the content of food and drugs. It is not actually used as a plant fertiliser. And for all those who are using it as a fertiliser for their plants, I think they’d be wasting their money! Funnily enough, I don’t think the vast majority of hits I get on this website (after people searching for mephedrone get sent to my 2010 article on the topic) are from real gardeners.

The reference to Fleming is to a news article in the Guardian. I don’t have a problem with the Guardian, but really, wouldn’t it be better to read and cite one or more of the scholarly articles recounting the story of mephedrone? For example:

Davey, Z., Corazza, O., Schifano, F., & Deluca, P. (2010). Mass-information: Mephedrone, myths, and the new generation of legal highs. Drugs and Alcohol Today, 10(3), 24-28. doi:10.5042/daat.2010.0467

Winstock, A. R., Mitcheson, L. R., Deluca, P., Davey, Z., Corazza, O., & Schifano, F. (2011). Mephedrone, new kid for the chop? Addiction, 106, 154-161. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03130.x

van Hout, M. C., & Brennan, R. (2011). Plant food for thought: A qualitative study of mephedrone use in Ireland. Drugs: Education, Prevention, and Policy, Advance online publication. doi:10.3109/09687637.2010.537713

These articles describe the relationship between mephedrone and plant food, and reading these articles would have helped the AIC authors avoid the mistake they made.

Their reference list of this report contains mostly web ‘fact sheets’, newspaper articles and technical reports. This kind of reference list tends to be a red flag to me as it indicates the authors aren’t engaged with the peer reviewed literature. However, even if you head to the ADF factsheet on mephedrone cited by the authors, it states that:

Mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone) was originally marketed as a plant fertiliser

Originally marketed, not originally developed. We can’t blame this error on the ADF factsheet.

I’ve sent the authors an email today and I’m hoping they will amend their online report so as not to continue perpetuating the myth about mephedrone actually being plant food!

UPDATE: the AIC informs me that they will edit this part of the report and repost it to their website. Good stuff 🙂

4 thoughts on “Some really expensive plant fertiliser…”

  1. Love Media Watch, it’s part of my must-see ABC Monday night 🙂

    Would be nice to have a regular ‘drug media watch’. It wouldn’t be hard to fill a 15 minute slot of it every week!

  2. Bit of a departure for an Australian Law and Order publication to re-cant on an error on illicit drugs…! What next? Christopher Pyne endorsing Harm Reduction?!
    We wanted to have a series of awards (called The Dope-eez) for the worst media reporting on illicit drugs in Australia, which, fed by Australian politicians, not surprisingly has some of the worst reporting in the world. Never took off…

  3. David, to their credit, AIC were very prompt in changing one word of the publication, from ‘developed’ to ‘marketed’. But it doesn’t change the fact that the reference list lacks substance. Why reference web ‘fact sheets’ when there is ample peer reviewed material on the subject? AIC still need to lift their game. If they’d accessed better sources, they wouldn’t have made the mistake in the first place.

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