New Drug Policy Alliance Media Tip Sheets Available to Help Reporters Improve Their Coverage of Commonly Misunderstood Drugs
In recent years, there has been increasing media attention on drugs like “Spice”, “K2”, “bath salts”, “flakka”, fentanyl, “molly”, and others. Unfortunately, much of the coverage – even by some of the most well-meaning journalists – contains misinformation or inaccurate or misleading terminology. It is often difficult to find reputable sources for information on newer substances like synthetic cathinones (commonly called “bath salts”) and synthetic cannabinoids (commonly called “Spice” or “K2”). This all serves to perpetuate unfounded myths and unhelpful hysteria about these substances in reporting.
The Drug Policy Alliance has created media tip sheets to help journalists accurately and constructively cover drugs that are frequently misrepresented in the media. They address some prevailing myths and common misinformation, as well as give a basic understanding of what these substances are and their known effects.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about drugs and their effects, whether it’s new substances like synthetic cannabinoids – often called “K2” – or ones like MDMA, now referred to as “molly”, that have been around a while. Rather than simply repeating myths or incorrect terminology, members of the media can play an important role in providing clear and factual information, and we hope these tip sheets help accomplish that,” says Stefanie Jones, director of audience development at the Drug Policy Alliance.
This release includes media tips sheets for synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic opioids, synthetic cathinones, and MDMA, with topics including:
Many of these topics come in response to past coverage that was incomplete, inaccurate or misleading.
In 2012, for instance, synthetic cathinones began getting a frenzy of media attention after a particularly gruesome case out of Miami made headlines. Rudy Eugene had attacked and chewed at the face of Ronald Poppo. Media outlets quickly blamed “bath salts,” based purely on the unfounded speculation of one police officer. Later, toxicology found no trace of synthetic cathinones in Eugene’s system, however, by that time many stories had already repeated the information and never offered a correction. Sensationalized stories were published warning of drug-induced cannibalism, dubbing synthetic cathinones the “zombie drug,” and even going so far as calling “bath salts” use an epidemic.
In 2016, media coverage of synthetic cannabinoid use and related hospitalizations engendered unconstructive hysteria. Reports on the drug’s presence in Brooklyn referred to people who use “K2” as zombies, and emphasized the spike in hospitalizations, all with little discussion of the vulnerable communities that are impacted the most by these substances. Additionally, most outlets used misleading terms like “synthetic weed” or “synthetic marijuana” for a class of substances that is chemically distinct from marijuana and often causes stronger and more numerous negative effects.
In addition to these media tip sheets, DPA maintains dozens of systematic, thoroughly-cited fact sheets on a broad spectrum of drug policy issues, for use by members of the media, academics, advocates and others.