Zombie Lobby: Politics ain’t chemistry

Hyperbola and other editorial acrobatics were out in force in a particularly ill-informed piece published on the 15th of November 2022 by The Community Advocacy Alliance (CAA) called Flakka – A New Zombie in Town… Take note that the CAA are a key lobby group for Victoria Police.

At the height of the new and novel drug merry-go-round in the mid 2010’s, one synthetic cathinone was repeatedly branded as the ‘zombie drug’ by the mainstream press. Cathinones are substances with stimulating effects and a structure similar to chemicals found in the African plant ‘Khat.’ This particular synthetic cathinone in question is Alpha-PVP, also known as ‘flakka’ and ‘bath salts’

Since the boom of NPS, the Victorian Government introduced and passed multiple amendments to the states’ primary prohibition document, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. Among the amendments was a ‘catch-all’ scheduling, prohibiting anything that could be considered a psychoactive substance. This catch-all approach has largely stopped the grey-market retailing of new cathinones and other novel substances, forcing the market further underground and exacerbating harms, as with other the classic prohibited drugs.

Much as was the case for the Victorian government, the chemistry was a bit too complicated for the authors of this article. They claim Alpha-PVP is manufactured using ‘Condy’s Crystals’ – after a bit of Googling we deduce that the author is referring to potassium permanganate. Potassium permanganate can be used as part of a reaction to make Alpha-PVP, but this is not strictly necessary nor would such a reaction necessarily be harmful to manufacturers or consumers. Potassium permanganate is an essential medicine as listed by the World Health Organisation. This is not an essential nor key ingredient in Alpha-PVP and seems to draw on the classic drug stigma approach of eliciting fear via claims of hazardous drug ingredients.

The piece informs us that, “Flakka, has hit the streets and, apparently, is doing the rounds in the Dandenong Area,” following on with the unsubstantiated and slightly conspiratorial claim “there is a suggestion that first responders have been told not to talk about it.” The author makes vague attempts at ‘evidence’, in the form of an outdated Who article, written by Faye James, a contributor who specializes in ‘health, beauty, celebrity and royal content’.

The article reeks of political bias:

“Critically, given what is known about this drug and what the Government is doing about it (as far as we can determine very little), somebody must be held accountable. If a group of volunteers can find this issue, surely there must be detailed plans and policies from the highly paid bureaucrats and politicians who are responsible for community health and safety. Where are they?”

When looking for an authorisation notice, legally required for political campaign material, no particular parties are mentioned. It’s clear the piece was written with political intent, as Victoria’s state election looms. But even for a clearly political piece, it is so poorly written that the CAA, who are a registered ‘not for profit’ charity, ought to be embarrassed to have published such a piece. It finishes with a jab at the supervised injecting room, “Will they accept or reject Flakka addicts with all their risks or shunt them out into the community like other addicts that misbehave?”

To political players, drug stigma is low hanging fruit for appealing to fearful people that are uneducated about drugs. Every cathinone and indeed every drug is different, and each one can be made in a variety of different ways that might sound strange if you aren’t a chemist. If you’re worried about the risks around a drug, for you or someone else, then learn more about it. Try Erowid or Bluelight – we don’t suggest you look to CAA or the Victorian Police. As we’ve said before – law enforcement are not drug experts.


Nick Wallis

Disclaimer: The author takes full responsibility for the content of this article.

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