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January 7, 2011
More On Homemade Street Drugs
I wrote here about a Wall Street Journal article covering illegal street-drug labs in Europe. Well, maybe that should be not-quite-illegal, because the people involved were deliberately making compounds that the law hadn't caught up with yet.
The article mentioned David Nichols at Purdue as someone whose published work on CNS compounds had been followed/ripped off/repurposed by the street drug folks. Now Nature News has a follow-up piece by him, and he's not happy at all with the way things have been turning out:
We never test the safety of the molecules we study, because that is not a concern for us. So it really disturbs me that 'laboratory-adept European entrepreneurs' and their ilk appear to have so little regard for human safety and human life that the scant information we publish is used by them to push ahead and market a product designed for human consumption. Although the testing procedure for 'safety' that these people use apparently determines only whether the substance will immediately kill them, there are many different types of toxicity, not all of which are readily detectable. For example, what if a substance that seems innocuous is marketed and becomes wildly popular on the dance scene, but then millions of users develop an unusual type of kidney damage that proves irreversible and difficult to treat, or even life-threatening or fatal? That would be a disaster of immense proportions. This question, which was never part of my research focus, now haunts me.
Well, that's absolutely right, and it's not terribly implausible, either. The MPTP story is as good an example as you could want of what happens when you just dose whoever shows up on the street corner with that cool stuff you made in your basement lab. All we need is a side effect like that, which comes on a bit more slowly, and there you'd have it. That's one of the reasons I have such disgust for the people who are making and selling these things - they show a horrifying and stupid disregard for human life, all for the purpose of making a few bucks.
At the same time, I think that Nichols himself should try not to blame himself. His article comes across rather anguished; I have a lot of sympathy for him. But the actions of other people, especially scum, are outside of his control, and I think he's taking every reasonable precaution on his end while he does some valuable work.
Homo homini lupus: the sorts of people who see basement drugs as a fun business opportunity would likely be doing something equally stupid and destructive otherwise. Dr. Nichols, you have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to apologize for - and, honestly, nothing to keep you up at night. You're the responsible member of the human race in this story.
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