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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 30th September 2013
'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times'

Or, as the modern version goes ‘I have some good news and some bad news. What would you like to hear first?’ I’ll start with the bad news.

One of the advantages of the modern world is that you don’t have to watch a TV programme to know what happened. Thanks to IMDB I know in synopsis form what happened in last night’s final part of 'Breaking Bad'. And it was, it seems, every bit as bad as I feared.

I’ve written at length about what is wrong with the way ricin, the poison found in the seeds of Ricinus communis, the castor oil plant, is depicted so I won’t repeat myself. If you follow that link to the plant page you’ll find the various times I’ve blogged about the nonsense spouted about ricin.

But, just for the record, I wanted to say that there is no way that Walt produced pure ricin (and, in fairness, I wouldn’t expect a TV show to demonstrate a viable production method), there is no way that the amount of ‘ricin’ given to the victim would be fatal by ingestion and the result of ingesting ricin would not be ‘flu-like’ symptoms but vomiting of varying intensity depending on the dose.

I know it is a work of fiction so what matters is progressing the plot not being truthful over the plot devices. Or rather, I know. What concerns me is that there are people who confuse fiction with fact and many people may have had their prejudices about ricin reinforced by its use in this story.

Why does it matter? Because, and this can’t be said often enough, the only way ricin can be successful as a terrorist weapon is if people believe it to be what it is not. The media, and now ‘Breaking Bad’ are on the side of terrorists when they spout lies about the effectiveness of ricin as a killer.

And the good news?

That a serving Chief Constable has called for the legalisation and tight regulation of heroin in order to combat the criminal gangs who control its supply in a prohibitionist model.

The Observer’s front page story, yesterday, was about a piece by Mike Barton, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary. It wasn’t the piece itself but a report about it from an Observer journalist, Henry McDonald.

Naturally, there has been a response with a report in the Guardian saying that Barton ‘has been warned by his fellow chief officers to be careful about the messages he is sending to young people’ according to the ACPO lead on drug policy, Chief Constable Andy Bliss.

Did you notice the ‘think of the children’ point there? I’m becoming more and more convinced that reformers have to take possession of that argument and keep pointing out that leaving drugs in the hands of criminals and pretending that supply is prevented by current laws is absolutely NOT ‘thinking of the children’.

And, of course, the UK Home Office has reached for prepared statement no. 23/458/19. That’s the one that says ‘Drugs are illegal because they are dangerous. And we know they are dangerous because they are illegal’.

It is really encouraging that someone in a position of authority is willing to step up and say current policy isn’t working. I hope it may be the start of something significant.

Perhaps, more and more people will feel able to be truthful about the action of all manner of substances. Who knows, when they remake ‘Breaking Bad’ in twenty-five years, they might be able to deal with ricin truthfully.  


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