Know your drugs

I hope this message is a redundant recitation of points brought to your attention by other readers of your news weekly, but I’m taking the time to write it in the event that it isn’t.

My name is Scott Hart, and I am currently a resident of Ventura. I picked up a copy of your Aug. 4 issue because the cover article was a subject of interest to me, having known an all too-large number of folks who have, or currently are struggling with opioid addiction, or other forms of chemical dependency. I am also well aware that we are in the midst of a national epidemic of dependency on opioid-class drugs, and I was curious what the local alt-weekly had to say on the matter. Unfortunately, I didn’t get past the first sentence of the second paragraph:

“The term “opioids” includes street heroin but also applies to pharmaceuticals — painkillers and sleeping aids — such as oxycodone, Adderall, promethazine, Opana, Valium, Vicodin, Xanax, and Dilaudid.” 

 – Hooked on Opioids, Michael Aushenker, Aug. 4

The amount of blatant misinformation in this single sentence not only turned me off from finishing the article (perhaps the first VCReporter article I would ever have read), but has instilled in me a sense of obligation regarding composing this message to you, and the danger of sloppy reporting on important subject matters. While it is true that oxycodone, Opana, Vicodin, and Dilaudid are opioid-class drugs, Adderall is an amphetamine (much closer to meth than heroin), Valium and Xanax are benzodiazepines, and promethazine is an antihistamine.  Amphetamines are stimulants, existing on the opposite side of the chemical effect spectrum from “downers” such as opiates. Benzodiazepines are indeed downers, and in fact some of the most dangerous chemicals in terms of physical dependency (benzodiazepines, and alcohol are the only classes of drug from which withdrawal can be fatal by itself; a popular misconception is that this also applies to opioids; it does not), but they are not opioids. Antihistamines are generally used for allergy medicine.

I’m not sure if the author of this piece did not bother to look up the definition of opioid before writing a piece on the subject, but it is not a general term for all addictive drugs. The opioid category specifically refers to chemicals either directly derived from opium, the product of poppy species, or to chemicals derived from a synthetic version thereof. No opium, no opioid; it’s a fairly simple equation.

I’m not sure how the editorial chain works at your publication, but as bad as I find it that a journalist tasked with addressing a topic doesn’t bother to learn the specific definition of that topic, I find it much worse that these simple mistakes, which the briefest of Google search, or any kind of responsible fact checking through a variety of widely available, reliable sources, would have stood to correct, made it to publication. Beyond the inattention to craft that this implies, it is also dangerous to the public good. It is entirely possible that someone could use this piece as reference material, from which “facts” entire decision-making chains stem. In many instances, that is bad from a journalistic integrity standpoint, but in this particular context, worst case scenario is that someone dies from actions undertaken based on misinformation. That is a chain of causality I feel fairly certain that neither you, your reporters, nor anyone involved with your publication want anything to do with. I sincerely hope that you not only correct this error in future editions of your paper, but that moving forward, you begin to practice considerably more substantial due diligence concerning background research and basic fact checking in your articles, for the sake of your publication’s integrity, the craft of your reporters and editors, and the general informedness and  well-being of your readers.

I appreciate your taking the time to read this message.  

Scott Hart