Drugs. Zombies. Cannibals. The perfect storm. When 31-year-old Rudy Eugene chewed the face off a homeless man in the middle of a Miami street in May 2012, a policeman wrongly claimed he had been using ‘bath salts’ (a US term for mephedrone). Like other news outlets, the Sun claimed the drug was to blame for a wave of cannibalism. Two days after the Sun’s story appeared, the bath salt-zombie link was demolished. But by then, nobody cared.
This New York Times article from 1914 concludes that the answer to the rising problem of a new breed of superhumanly strong black men fuelled by cocaine is, naturally, bigger guns. According to police in North Carolina, cocaine sniffing not only makes black people immune to normal bullets, but turns them into better marksmen, with one “cocaine nigger” dropping five men with five cartridges.
Our intrepid reporter for 1938 US music mag Radio Stars goes off in search of the drug behind the “sizzling trumpet licks, the ingenious, and finger-breaking riffs of the clarinet, the wacky off-beat of the drums”. He finds that “coloured swingsters, on the whole, are ‘walking on air’ more often than whites”. After smoking weed, he warns, “You probably will throw yourself from a window. Or, you may as easily decide that your companion should be killed… and you’ll kill him”.
It was no coincidence that this 2002 story came out shortly after the government announced it would downgrade cannabis from a Class B to a Class C drug. What was the fiercely anti-cannabis Daily Mail’s evidence? At the trial of vampire fantasist Matthew Hardman, it was mentioned by one witness that Hardman had smoked cannabis once, when he was younger.
One of the only recorded examples of that urban myth, a drug dealer selling drugs outside a school, The People described how Rev, “a surly 19 year old dressed in ripped jeans and a leather jacket” was photographed “cynically targeting youngsters with pills” in 2003. But it turned out that ‘Rev’ was in fact the teenage son of the paper’s photographer. The scam was spotted by the boy’s mother who caled the paper to complain and journalist and snapper were sacked.
A nation willed this 2005 tale about squirrels in Brixton, south London being addicted to crack cocaine to be true. Unfortunately the story was taken by a reporter from a tongue in cheek comment on a local internet chat forum by ‘Bob’, who explained that crack dealers were hiding stashes of the drug in his front garden only to be dug up by squirrels: “Do I face the prospect of dreaded crack squirrels? I’m worried by being done over by a twitchy squirrel.”
It’s not just the tabloids that make it up, so do posh papers like the Independent. And this is total baloney. Crystal meth, compared to its huge use in countries such as America, is virtually non-existent in the UK, and never has been. It is a drug used in the main by small cliques in London, Manchester and Brighton. Seizures, arrests and deaths relating to crystal meth barely register on national statistics.
Hmm. Ok there might have been the odd wheelie bin set alight In Barnsley by one or two people who couldn’t afford some glue one day. But the ‘drug of choice’ for teenagers? Have you ever tried sticking a wheelie bin in your pocket in a queue for a nightclub?
As the media hype around mephedrone gathered pace at the end of 2009, this load of bollocks, initiated by the Press Association and pounced upon by virtually every paper in the country hit the news stands. It sounded too good a story to be true, and it was. As with the crack squirrels, the source for the story was a joke on an online chat forum.