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Monkey Dust in the UK: A drug “epidemic” or an overstatement?

Alarmist UK media reports of a new drug, monkey dust, are on the rise, as journalists misleadingly tell of “zombie face-eating” people that jump off buildings.

The term monkey dust is being used in the press to refer to unknown cathinone substances, including MDPV (methylenedioxypyrovalerone), which is a class B drug. Monkey dust began gaining widespread national media attention in August 2018, and is being described as a yellowish white powder which can be ingested, injected, or snorted for a cheap price. According to Sky News, monkey dust stops those who use it from feeling pain, produces hallucinations, and can cause paranoia leading to a feeling of being chased.

In recent months it has been making headlines due to its alleged use by marginalised groups, including homeless people, in Staffordshire – particularly Stoke-on-Trent. More than 170 incidents involving monkey dust have been logged by the West Midlands Ambulance Service since April 2018, and the Staffordshire Police say they’ve had 950 incidents related to the substance in the past three months.

Fuelling hysteria, footage of people that have allegedly taken monkey dust has been circulated by local newspapers and on social media, depicting apparent crazed individuals on rooftops, ambulance floors, and being restrained by police. One particular clip, published by the Stoke Sentinel, shows a man swaying on a roof before eventually jumping and sustaining injuries, apparently due to the effects of monkey dust. However, it has emerged that said video was unrelated to the so-called monkey dust epidemic; it was filmed in 2014, and the police are unsure which drugs – if any – the individual had taken.

Reporting has seen people who have used monkey dust compared to zombies, described as “violent psychotics”, and generally creating and perpetuating harmful and degrading images of people in vulnerable situations. Tellingly, Sky News tells us that the “typical users [are] people with chaotic lifestyles, dependency issues and of no fixed abode” most likely using the drug as a means of escape. Individuals in such situations do not need further marginalisation caused by unnecessary fear-mongering; they need support.

The claim that those under the influence of monkey dust have cannibal cravings is unproven and most likely based on a case from the USA in 2012 where a man was mauled by an assailant who was alleged to have used bath salts, another term associated with monkey dust with no fixed definition widely used in the press. The attacker in this story had no trace of synthetic cathinone substances in his system according to the toxicology report.

It has been revealed that the forensic science lab which covers the West Midlands area has dealt with at least six fatal cases linked to monkey dust in the last 18 months but this is hardly an “epidemic”. Drugs falling under the monkey dust moniker are seemingly being used by a very small number of highly socially-excluded people in the UK, who deserve support not derision.

By pushing divisive and alarmist rhetoric around this phenomenon, many publications in the UK press are needlessly inducing fear and making matters worse.

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