The nastiest thing you can say about a news story is that it reads in the spirit of the press release that spawned it. So, let's start there:
The New York Times' Jan. 9 story about the alleged avalanche of methamphetamine-laced MDMA (ecstasy) cascading down on the United States from Canada—"Rise Seen in Trafficking of Enhanced Ecstasy"—harmonizes, almost bar for bar, with the Jan. 3 press release from the office of White House "drug czar" John Walters.
The "drug czar's" press release attempts to foist as news the frequent adulteration of MDMA with other drugs, and the Times article helps advance that notion. The "drug czar" would have you believe that the very MDMA-meth recipe is something new. Again, the Times lines up the official sources to make it appear so. Then the press release gets all hinky about the high percentage of ecstasy tablets seized last year that contained methamphetamine without asking the crucial question, "How much methamphetamine per tablet?" The Times does the same.
The only significant deviation comes when the Times declines to confirm the catastrophic public health threat that the "drug czar" posits. Sheepishly—if a news story can be sheepish—the paper reports that the MDMA-meth cocktail "has not been the source of emergency room admissions, overdoses or new clients in substance-abuse programs, according to experts on both the law enforcement and the treatment side."
Without a doubt, Canada has become a major exporter of ecstasy tablets to the United States. Without a doubt, much of that output contains methamphetamine. But the office of the "drug czar" is not a trustworthy place to begin the framing of this story.
You would think that if Canadians are exporting the adulterated stuff to their American cousins, they're consuming it, too. And you'd be right. Back on Oct. 26, 2002, the National Post reported from Vancouver, B.C., that most ecstasy pills are "tainted" with other drugs.
Citing a University of British Columbia and Royal Canadian Mounted Police study of confiscated pills purported to be ecstasy, the paper reported that "[l]ess than one-third of the tablets examined contained only one substance." One common additive was methamphetamine.
Another study of tablets seized at rave parties, this one by the RCMP and Health Canada and reported in the Nov. 18, 2004, Montreal Gazette, found methamphetamine in 23 percent of the 357 tablets tested. On Dec. 15, 2005, the National Post returned with another story datelined Vancouver that found methamphetamine in 95 of 125 tablets that also contained MDMA. About half of the tablets contained caffeine, and ephedrine and ketamine were detected in some.
Because Canadian authorities and journalists know all about ecstasy adulteration, they were perplexed by the urgency of "drug czar" Walters' media event. The Jan. 4, 2008, National Post reported:
Yesterday's release of the alert by the top American anti-drug official took a senior RCMP drug officer by surprise but he does not dispute the message.
"He is not wrong. But this is nothing new. We've been telling them this for years," said Superintendent Ron Allen, head of the RCMP's Drug Section for the Greater Toronto Area.
In the summer of 2006, for instance, Canadian police seized 10,000 pills sold as Ecstasy that were destined for New York, and a laboratory test found they contained 80 percent methamphetamine.