Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

2nd February 2001 - GBH: Gibberish By Hack

Copyright © 2001 Russell Brown

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so Jenny Shipley is the leader of the National Party and will remain so until the next election at least. Bill English, who, depending on your view, was either too young, too unexperienced, too unpopular or just plain too much of a pussy to topple her will almost certainly replace Wyatt Creech as her deputy.

Can she win an election? I don't think so, but she is trying very hard. She's elevated the bovver-boy tendency in the considerable shape of Gerry Brownlee in her Cabinet reshuffle. And has anybody else noticed that she's been trained out of that patronising schoolmarm tone?

She has also made her party fixer, Murray McCully, the shadow minister for Auckland, where, of course, she now mostly lives, in a flat down at the Viaduct. Sorry, at the American Express Harbour. Not. Let's all refuse to call it that, shall we?

Shipley's nemesis, the Prime Minister, seeking to be able to enjoy a little flush of good news - including the biggest jump in business confidence since those gibbering surveys began - has been trying to tidy her own house this week.

She has met, apparently constructively, with her own nemesis, Dover Samuels on his own turf, seeking in the process to heal a spat of her own making with the northern tribes. To be brutally frank, she will be helped in that by the passing of Sir Robert Mahuta - whose burial on Monday will thoroughly eclipse Waitangi Day on Tuesday, has come at the right time for her.

It's a grand story, Sir Bob's. Much has already been said about his role in seeking and securing Tainui's raupatu settlement. This is to miss the point a little. His greater vision was of the iwi as a modern entity. The sadness of it is that in his last few years he went some way towards unravelling his own vision.

It might have been different. Sir Robert might have withdrawn from the leadership of his tribe while he still had his judgement. Tainui might have had better advice. The Warriors might have prospered had not Mark Graham and Graham Lowe not spent all their money on a lumbering forward pack that couldn't really play.

This is not only news, it is history. It has also given the press something more substantial to talk about than 1,4 Butanediol - or, as it is commercially packaged and more easily pronounced, one4b.

The one4b story was once again an opportunity for the mainstream news media to demonstrate its unwillingness to even have a go at getting the facts right on drug issues. The worst effort - and it was almost comical - was a "killer dance drug" story in the Sunday News.

Police were warning, it said, that "the newest love drug, GBH - known as liquid fantasy" was "a killer". One of the young men "nearly died" after overdosing, the Sunday News said. There was some fantasy about, but it was in that story rather than in little packets. GBH in this case stands for "gibberish by hack".

Nobody "nearly died". Indeed, the young people whose friends got them to hospital were not really in critical condition. They were quite properly admitted to critical care because they could not be woken, a typical symptom of overdose of either one4b or GHB.

By the end of the weekend, there was another overdose. A young man had to be helicoptered in from Piha after apparently taking four to eight packets - or four to eight times the recommended initial dose - of one4b. Itwas all on.

So what say we stop right here and clear up a few things? Although you might not have guessed it from the reporting, there is screeds of information on one4b available on the Internet; from the DuPont chemical product catalogue to testimonials from people who've been taking it every night for three years to treat insomnia.

One4b is a precursor to the better-known - and since last year, illegal - party drug GHB. This means it is turned into GHB in the body and for all practical purposes *is* GHB. GHB is apparently known as "Fantasy" or "Liquid Ecstasy", although the only place I have ever seen or heard it called either is in the newspapers and on TV.

One4b has nothing to do with Ecstasy. Of all the goodies on offer on a Saturday night it actually has most in common with alcohol. Like alcohol it's a solvent, and it's metabolised in the liver by the same enzyme as alcohol.

One4b was for some time available in various over-the-counter preparations in the US, but has been banned for sale for human consumption by the FDA, after it was associated with some deaths, with whose circumstances I am not familiar. If you want one4b in the US now, you'll have to buy CD cleaner and drink that.

There are a number of caveats attached to one4b use - the most notable of which are that it must never be mixed with alcohol or any other depressants, and that more is not better. Both these points are strongly made on the packaging created by the company marketing it here, Outer Space.

The packaging and accompanying leaflets take the task of informing the user very seriously. I watched Outer Space's Mark Barlow selling it at the Big Day Out and verbally reiterating the same cautions.

He's an interesting chap, Barlow. I first met him nearly 10 years ago when he was selling a range of smart drinks and then, as now, he was a good advertisement for his own products. He has not gone recklessly into his latest venture.

But in the course of a hard week - in which he was interviewed by the police and, more scarily, Kim Hill - he has let himself down at . I'd rather not hear him refer to one4b as a "time release version" of GHB, or imply that his product is intrinsically healthier than GHB - if anything the reverse is the case.

With the speed that only a moral panic can procure, one4b has been taken off the market while it is investigated. Meanwhile, the young people who were part of the original scare have come forward to declare that they don't believe the one4b they had was the source of the overdose, but rather a bottle of water spiked with an unknown quantity of GHB itself.

So where does that leave us? From one perspective one4b has a lot going for it as a party drug: it renders people happy and silly, and it's been and gone in four hours, no hangover. Lovely. There are even people - a few doctors amongst them - who regard GHB as a misunderstood wonder drug.

On the other hand, it has characteristics that make it an absolute non-starter. The dose-response of alcohol, ecstasy or pot is fairly easily understood - two drinks gets you twice as drunk; two pills gets you twice the buzz; two hits on the bong makes you like reggae music twice as much.

Not so with this stuff: double or triple the dose, or mix it with alcohol, and the lights might just go out when you least expect it. Acute toxic reactions might be rare or unknown, but you become very vulnerable when you're unconscious.

All the instructions and warnings on the packet become moot when you encounter the munter effect - wilful overdose - or, worse, when somebody slips some into your Stoli. But making the legal version illegal will not stop people taking it. So what do you do? I don't know, to be honest, but I don't think one4b or GHB are a good idea in bars. Stay home.

The nation is, whether it wants it or not, having the drug debate thrust on it lately. The Gathering suggested that the illicit drugs tend to produce a better social result than the legal ones, especially if the people using them are left to get on with it.

The Police Association meanwhile has claimed that the substantial drop in burglaries last year was not a result of George Hawkins' back-to-basics strategy, but because the crims are more interested in making and dealing speed, which is the new pot. Apparently.

And the Alliance's Laila Harre suffered the fate of those who attempt to be honest about cannabis issues. She pointed out that introducing an instant fines system for pot offences would not in fact help young people, and that a more rational response to abuse would be better support and counselling rather than criminal prosecution of any kind. National's Nick Smith was all over that like something unpleasant, implying that Harre wanted to sell drugs to schoolkids. This just goes round and round in circles.

Still, it could be worse. The Labour Department has correctly found that there is "no practical use" in workplace drug testing for marijuana impairment.

They do that in the US, of course, where there is now serious official consideration of inoculating children against the pleasurable effects of - and hence the desire to use - illegal drugs. But, then, the United States of America looks to be entering a slightly scary space.

The US economy is in a tailspin - Clinton, slick as ever, got out just in time. George Bush has shown every sign that he will apply the most ferocious stupidity to his term as President: from missile defence to slush funds for churches.

It is now beyond doubt that Al Gore actually won the US presidential election. Not only did half a million more Americans vote for him, but the Washington Post has been able to count the disputed votes in Florida. He won there too - by around 30,000 votes. But of course, in circumstances that amount to the corruption of America's highest court, those votes weren't counted.

The US press, for all its airs and graces, has largely shied from saying so, in order to preserve the fantasy that the USA is the world's greatest democracy. On recent it evidence it barely qualifies as a democracy at all. Things could be worse here, they really could


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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