Wednesday, June 14, 2006

the calliope crashed to the ground

Before you read this post you might want to read The Dangers of Bread. It might put you in the right frame of mind ...

Today's NZ Herald had a story entitled Research finds more people indulging in party pills than expected. Or, as I'd like to call it, "a whole bunch of statistics that don't tell us much conclusive, but we'll sure as hell spin them for all they're worth".

Let's start with the first useless statistic: "of the one in seven who had tried them [legal party pills] in the past year, 15 per cent said the experience had a poor effect on their health". Which is very interesting. Except no attempt is made by the Herald at this point to define what "a poor effect on their health" means. Maybe they threw up? Or had the runs the next morning? Bleed from their eyes and then drew pentagrams on the bathroom floor in their own blood? Well, to find out we have to find the original report
(which is somewhat more informative and helpful than the Herald), which can be downloaded from here.

When we read deeper into the report we find that the question asked "whether their use of legal party pills had harmed eight areas of their life in the preceeding year". The eight areas were Energy and Vitality - 19.3%, Health - 14.6%, Financial position - 8.8%, Outlook on life - 6.3%, Home life - 4.7%, Friendships and social life - 4%, Work and study life - 2.9%, and Harmed children's health and well-being - 1%. Hardly stunning stuff. But we'll get back to this in a minute. Let's see what rent-a-moral-panic has to say:
The debate over party pills - legal highs that can have similar effects to amphetamine or Ecstasy - has intensified over what critics say is a growing problem.
Paul Gee, of Christchurch Hospital, said the emergency department dealt with about one BZP-influenced patient a week.
Dr Paul Gee, an emergency room doctor in Christchurch, seems to be quite the crusader against party pills. One wonders whether it is a coincidence that the other big crusader against their incidious effects, Jim Anderton, is also a native of Christchurch? But conspiracy theories aside, Dr Gee contradicts the idea the we have a "growing problem". How? Well he helped to write a paper last year that tracked admissions for party pill "adverse effects". A summary of the paper is here, and a article on it is here. Dr Gee's paper states that the emergency room at 80 incidents presenting because of party pills. The study period was 22 weeks in 2005, so we get a rate of 3.6 people a week in Christchurch with adverse effects during the study period. But now, according to the quote above, it's only 1 a week. Wow. Quite a serious problem then.

Dr Gee doesn't stop with his doom-mongering there. He goes on to say:
We have encountered people under the influence of BZP who have threatened family members with weapons and in one case set fire to their house while barricaded inside.
Dr Gee said 98 per cent of users could feel "a bit washed out for three or four days".
Good fuck. And this guy's a doctor? I hope I'm never hospitalised in Christchurch. 98% of users? Not according to the MoH survey. Loss of energy topped out at 18.4% amongst the psychological problems reported by users. Higher still was users reporting trouble sleeping, at 50.4% (frustratingly this is not further elaborated - was sleep profoundly disturbed for a lengthy period, or was it the equivalent of drinking too many cups of coffee?). Amongst physical problems, the biggest problem was poor appetite at 41.1%, followed by hot/cold flushes and excessive sweating, weighing in at 30.6% and 23.4% respectively. Well, that is a lot of users. But go back to those stats I quoted earlier. Despite users reporting all these symptoms, only one in five thought their energy and vitality had been affected, and one in six thought their health had been harmed. When you actually look at the number of people going to hospital things fall a little further into perspective: 1.2% thought they were in trouble enough to call an ambulance, 1% visited an emergency room, and only 0.4% were actually admitted (it would be helpful to know whether these actually all the same people but the study doesn't elaborate, sadly).

Dr Gee's 98% of users is utter bullshit, but that's not surprising because he is seeing his sample population in fucking emergency rooms; by definition he is only seeing the people with problems with party pill use. And this survey proves that the people he sees are overwhelmingly the unusual cases. As for his people under the influence of BZP who threatened people with weapons and burned down houses ... well, golly, were they under the influence of anything else? Did they have a previous history of violence maybe? Or possibly psychological problems? Had they eaten any bread lately? Dangerous shit, bread. Murder! Insanity! Death! You get the picture ...

At the end of the day this was a phone survey, not a clinical study, and the respondents were self-reporting. This is definitely a useful tool, but you get into difficulty when trying to extrapolate harms from such a survey - how does a user distinguish feeling dizzy caused by BZP, feeling dizzy because you downed too many RTDs on an empty stomach, and feeling dizzy from spinning around in a circle on a dance floor in a crazy fashion? Are you tired and washed out because of BZP use or because you didn't get home from partying until 5am in the morning?

But the most telling statistic was the number who had given up - 60.8% of the survey population. A third gave up because they didn't like the hangover, another third stopped because they didn't party as much, and the rest cited a range from health to expense. But the important thing is that a significant proportion of adults tried party pills, decided they didn't like them and so stopped using them. And another group of adults have tried it, liked it, and - despite the downsides to use metioned above - have made a reasoned and rational to keep taking the pills. And why the hell should they be stopped?

The smartest quote I've found on all this is from Ross Bell, from the NZ Drug Foundation. Last year, when commenting upon calls form Dr Gee for party pills to be banned, he remarked:
Of course, it would be interesting to know how many people are presenting to Dr Gee's emergency department with alcohol-related problems and whether he thinks alcohol should be banned accordingly ...
Oh, and funniest statistic goes to the methods used by respondents to "recover" from party pills: 50.2% used Recover Pills (whatever they are), 10.7% used alcohol ... and 1.3% used crack cocaine. Are these the same guys who used hammers to cure headaches?

A Snopes a Day; or, Shit You Should Stop Believing:
Six outrageous-but-real lawsuits showcase the need for tort reform Once you've read that, you should pop over to The McDonalds Coffee Case.

You always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask:
In "Blinded by the Light," what exactly is the lyric following the title phrase?
Best. Damn. Song. Ever.

Why do one's loins ache after a session of nonclimactic arousal?
Or, how not going all the way could give you cancer.

Alrighty, now before you go take a good look at this photo of Mohammed Abdul Kahar and Abul Koyair, the two gentlemen recently convicted of the crime of being recklessly and persistantly being Muslim while in possession of large beards. Have you had a good look? Then tell me this: screw being Muslim, with beards like that shouldn't they be forming the very first hill-billy death metal band in East London? Seriously.

... and finally, Monkey Fluids proves, once and for all, there ain't no thing funnier than sex with horses.


Apathy Jack said...

Those guys rule. They can sing backup harmonies for the Hardest Band In The Fucking World(tm), which so far consists of this guy (depicted here in tatoo form).

So far, everyone less hard has been too scared to go up and ask if they can join the band...

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