Delaware Senate Bill #259 (Brett's Law)

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Senate Bill # 259 w/SA 1

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Correspondence with Delaware Senator Karen Peterson

In the first instance note that I sent a copy of Daniel Siebert's response to Joe Bacca's Congress bill of 2002 - H.R.5607 - as linked on the page <Back from here.

Sen. Karen Peterson's initial response follows, with my further correspondence following after that, (my comments are shown with the silver leaf background, Sen. Karen Peterson's with paper effect background), and so it goes...


Thank you for forwarding a copy of Daniel Siebert's letter to Congress.

The legislation I proposed does not prohibit researchers from continuing their work with salvia divinorum. The Delaware Code specifically permits such use and my bill does not attempt to change that.


Thank you for your reply to the copy of Daniel Siebert’s letter to Congress.

You suggest that your bill (SB259) is not intended to prohibit research into Salvia divinorum.  But my reading was that your proposal was for it to be included as ‘Schedule1’ – and my understanding of what that classification means was that the substance has no medicinal value.

Anyway, I must also tell you that my ‘Google Alert’ – which I have set up to find and automatically advise me of news media reports on the subject – is keeping me informed of an increasing number of Salvia divinorum related stories from the US lately.  Many seem to be following the unfortunate case of Brett Chidester’s suicide.

One of these, an NBC story, runs with typically lurid headlines about “Dangerous Salvia”, but also goes on to report that “Brett was using a prescription acne medication that has been linked to depression” ( www.nbc10.com/news/8628557/detail.html )

So I went to the Acne Resource Centre website ( www.acne-resource.org ) and on a page about prescription dangers I read…

Isotretinoin (sometimes prescribed under the brand name of Accutane) is a highly potent, oral medication that is prescribed for very severe acne. WARNING: "Accutane may cause depression, psychosis and, rarely, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide."  (font type and colours as per the original webpage at www.acne-resource.org/how-to-prevent/prescription-dangers.html)

Now, I realise that it may be a far more daunting proposition for elected representatives to tackle large pharmaceutical companies than it is for them to persecute a comparatively small number of Salvia divinorum advocates, but I think this does warrant some further investigation.  And I would hope that you, as the proposer of “Brett’s Law”, would feel somewhat obligated to look further into the details of the case.


There has never been any mention of Brett Chidester taking acne medication -- and I have spent a lot of time talking with his parents about these issues. I don't know where NBC got their information -- but I also don't know where the reports came from that said Brett killed himself by setting himself on fire. There have been numerous versions of what happened to Brett -- but I have seen what he wrote in his journal and know what led him to kill himself.

I would not have any reservations about taking on the pharmaceutical companies -- if that is where the problem was. But Accutane was not the problem.

Brett (and lots of other kids who log onto "My Space.com") believe that salvia divinorum must be safe because it's legal. Now they will know better because the bill was signed into law by the governor last night.


By a strange coincidence in today’s (April 14th 2006) UK national newspapers there are stories of related interest…

“SCHOOLBOY Jason Spiller hanged himself just days after being prescribed a controversial acne drug treatment, an inquest heard yesterday. Jason, 16, was found by his mother Jean at their farm in Honiton, Devon, after taking Roaccutane. It has been linked with causing depression but makers Roche deny the claims.” – from the Daily Mirror – http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=16946478&method=full&siteid=94762&headline=acne-drug-lad-suicide-name_page.html 

As well as reports of the same story in the Sun – http://www.thesun.co.uk/article/0,,2-2006170302,00.html

And the Independent – http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article357635.ece – the Independent story adds, “Roaccutane has been linked to more than 100 suicides and attempted suicides worldwide…”

The Mirror, Sun and Independent are three major national papers over here in the UK.

Do you think this story is worth any further investigation in light of this?

I mean, I know reporters can get things wrong, but like with the story of Brett setting himself on fire at least I can see how they put 2+2 together and got 5 (charcoal grill + tent = fire), and I’m wondering why NBC’s report would mention Brett using an acne medication if it were completely untrue – it seems a bit of an odd detail to be simply made up out of nowhere.

I look forward hopefully to learning more about it.


Yes, I am interested in the Accutane issue -- and I appreciate the news articles you sent. I remember seeing some articles some time ago on this issue -- and didn't realize that the drug was still on the market. Last year, I sponsored a bill to prohibit the use of Thimerosal in vaccines given to children and pregnant women -- because of its links to autism. The bill passed, despite the opposition of the pharmaceutical industry. I suppose that there is no end to the number of drugs and preservatives that result in unintended consequences -- but when we identify them, we need to deal with them.

I just received an e-mail from a woman in Texas who has been trying to have Salvia Divinorum banned there because long-haul truck drivers use it to drive "high" without the risk of failing a drug test (since it cannot be detected by tests currently used). That's scary.

I will search the internet to see what I can find on Accutane. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.


I’ve been thinking about your “that’s scary” comment with regard to the notion of truck drivers “high” on Salvia divinorum.

For me I guess it boils down to what one’s fears are really, – what keeps you awake at night.

Personally, from what I know of it, I find the idea of truck drivers on Salvia so far-fetched that I can readily dismiss it as an ‘urban myth’.

Fear of Salvia seems to me to be somewhat like fear of the dark. Essentially we’re dealing with a function of the mind. – The unconscious.

Someone once argued with me that the unconscious was unconscious for a reason – suggesting maybe it was best left that way. But my thoughts on this are that, one way or another, it ends up influencing one’s behaviour anyhow. – And so illumination may be better I say.

The realities of drink-driving and underage consumption of alcohol are far more pressing concern to me. Proportionate to the actual risks, I think that’s something most parents should be far more concerned about.

And yet, despite being no great fan of alcohol myself, you won’t hear me calling for its prohibition. I believe that experiment brought more problems than it solved last time it was attempted.

More considered legislative controls with respect to Salvia divinorum, with regard to its sale to minors for example, would have been a far more measured and appropriate response in comparison to the panic reaction of ‘Schedule-1’ criminalisation.

At a push I wouldn’t object so much even to the outright ban of the sale of Salvia divinorum – as it could be argued that marketing it as a ‘commodity’ is rather at odds with the appreciation of its ‘sacred’ aspects.

However, according to the prosecution of your new law, you apparently believe that the most appropriate place for Salvia divinorum’s practitioners is now a lengthy period of time in jail.

Are you sure that such pejorative legislation is the best way to reign in all those who might wish to ‘explore the boundaries’?

Looking at the majority of the ‘old’ media’s reaction to the issue (i.e. TV and the press) – you may feel secure enough in your position.

But I would venture to suggest that in this battle of ideas, with the advent of the ‘new’ media, the rise of the internet and the democratisation of information, with an ever-increasing number of people prepared to think and investigate for themselves, then, just maybe, you might end up eventually losing the argument overall.


I would rather be driving next to someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol than someone who is hallucinating. Impaired judgment is better than no judgment.

Also, Brett Chidester was not taking Accutane. He was taking minocycline which, apparently, has not been linked to depression.


Dear Sen. Karen Peterson,

Perhaps I should’ve added to my ‘restriction on sale to minors’ example in my previous email to be more explicit and reiterate that of course driving while incapacitated – for whatever reason – is an issue of concern, and that a tightening up of the legislation with regard to Salvia here isn’t something that any of us would find unreasonable.

The point I was trying make however is that from what I know the fears about it seem not to be well-founded.

Amongst much of the misinformation being perpetuated about Salvia are often included comparisons with the effects of LSD. – Media stories nearly always neglecting to mention the fact that whereas LSD trips can last 10-12 hours, Salvia divinorum is more like 10-12 minutes.

Salvia can’t be casually smoked in a cigarette. – So the scenario we are being asked to imagine is a driver pulling over to set up their water pipe, – presumably leaving the engine running, having the express purpose of driving off with the full onset of the experience, – presumably just for the sheer hell of it.

You suggest that you are more comfortable with the idea of someone driving under the influence of alcohol, saying – “I would rather be driving next to someone whose judgment is impaired by alcohol than someone who is hallucinating. Impaired judgment is better than no judgment”.

But for me this is not really how it works.

The problem with alcohol as I see it isn’t so much about those attempting to drive while completely drunk (and consequently also completely incapacitated) as it is with those who think they’re basically okay having not had that much.

Part of alcohol’s profile is the way it can engender such a misplaced sense of self-confidence.

In moderation it may work well as a social lubricant, but its effect on judgemental capacity makes driving a real concern.

In 2004 there were 42,636 automobile accidents in the US, of which nearly 40% were alcohol related (source: NHTSA – the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

Like I say, I don’t mean to sound complacent, and I wouldn’t object to a tightening of legislation in this particular regard, but, from what I know of Salvia divinorum’s profile, it simply doesn’t bear comparison to the actual (and verifiable) dangers of alcohol.

I believe that Salvia’s profound effects are more likely to engender a sense of respect for the experience as opposed to a cocky overconfidence in one’s own proficiency.

-/-

With regard to Brett Chidester’s suicide: – Again, questioning details of the case is not to suggest my opposition to restrictions on the sale of Salvia divinorum to minors. – Far from it. But it is interesting to note how the story is being presented to us.

I’m thinking of major TV reports I’ve seen in particular (I’ve seen those available on the internet) such as the CNN report (from Anderson Cooper 360° which featured an interview with your good self).

What we are typically being presented with is the story of a boy with the world at his feet – a straight ‘A’s student – ambitions to become an architect – to travel – healthy outdoor pursuits – etc – but life so tragically cut short by Salvia.

Your initial response to my questions about acne medication was “There has never been any mention of Brett Chidester taking acne medication -- and I have spent a lot of time talking with his parents about these issues. I don't know where NBC got their information”.

Now if by coincidence I come across major newspaper stories which link an acne medication with teenage suicide, and Brett’s case is linked with an acne medication, then I’m bound to ask questions.

So it turns out, not that that Brett was using Accutane maybe, but he was indeed taking some medication for acne.

From this we can at least conclude he was suffering from acne. – A fact by and large neglected in most news reports (and initially passed over by you).

Leaving aside for the moment the question of the actual medication being used, there is a great deal of evidence linking acne (i.e. just in and of itself) with teenage depression.

The potential reasons for suicide are numerous, varied and complex, but I think we’d have to agree, low self-esteem in those formative teenage years isn’t generally going to be helped by the onset of acne is it?

It is quite unreasonable to insist upon Salvia’s influence in an isolated case without also weighing up other evidence and looking for a more compelling degree of correlation.

Although the internet is still a growing phenomenon it is by no means new. It’s been well established for more than a decade. And, regardless of whether you had heard of it before, Salvia divinorum has been widely available in the US during all that time too.

In total about 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the US (31,484 is the latest available figure from National Center for Health Statistics for the year 2003). Of the year 2003 cases, 4,238 were under the age of 25. Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst 15-24 year olds. And the suicide rate for white males aged 15-24 has tripled since 1950 (there are more statistics of interest further referenced below).

As well as the figures for actual suicides, it’s also worth noting the much higher number of attempted suicides. According the Samaritans there are about 750,000 suicide attempts each year.

In addition, many more will people experience depression without going as far as making an attempt on their own lives.

If Salvia divinorum contributes to depression (and/or subsequent suicide) then I would expect to be hearing about this with more ‘survivors’ tales from some of the seven and a half million or so US suicide attempts of the last decade. For example, more retrospective accounts of what Salvia can do to ‘mess up your life’ like we have with believable accounts of heroin and crack-cocaine addicts.

I would also expect to be able to draw inference from other cultures having long-established relationships with Salvia divinorum. And the evidence here, from perhaps centuries of indigenous Mexican use, does not support your concerns. – Quite the opposite I think you will find.

-/-

I made the point in previous correspondence that taking on big pharmaceutical companies was an altogether different proposition to persecuting a comparatively small number of Salvia practitioners.

This was not intended to question your own integrity, and I do appreciate you entering into correspondence on the matter.

However, I have to ask, assuming a case not involving Salvia, – supposing the reporting of one of these teenage suicide cases where Accutane was being used, can you imagine TV coverage leading with such a bold block-capital banner headline as ‘LEGAL YET LETHAL’ like we saw with CNN’s story? www.cnn.com - click 'Watch Free Video (Most Popular)' link to 'More' then search for 'legal but lethal' in the pop-up window, or right-click and save this asx file and open it with your media player.

I think such unqualified assertions would be highly unlikely in that case. With teams of well-paid company lawyers employed to defend the large pharmaceuticals interest, I’d expect we’d get an altogether more cautious approach.

And the variety of opinion expressed in viewers comments sent to CNN about their Salvia coverage suggests a good few others had their own questions about it too.

Thank you once again for your thoughts so far.

Yours sincerely,

~


Further references:

Viewers feedback to CNN coverage: - http://www.cnn.com/CNN/Programs/anderson.cooper.360/blog/2006/04/herb-induces-hallucinations-proposed.html

Drink Driving Statistics: -
http://www.alcoholalert.com/drunk-driving-statistics.html 

Mothers Against Drunk Driving: - www.madd.org 
Dallas (April 20, 2006) - Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (Nationwide) have announced new Gallup survey results on underage drinking [...] The results highlight a major public misperception regarding the severity of teen alcohol use […] “The survey results show that the public mistakenly thinks the youth drug problem is worse than the youth alcohol problem, despite research and statistics that show more youth are drinking and dying due to alcohol than all other illicit drugs combined,” said Glynn R. Birch, MADD national president. - http://www.madd.org/news/10785 


American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - http://www.afsp.org 

Depression
• Over 60 percent of all people who die by suicide suffer from major depression. If one includes alcoholics who are depressed, this figure rises to over 75 percent.
• More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease (7 million), cancer (6 million) and AIDS (200,000) combined.
• About 15 percent of the population will suffer from clinical depression at some time during their lifetime. Thirty percent of all clinically depressed patients attempt suicide; half of them ultimately succeed.
• Depression is among the most treatable of psychiatric illnesses. Between 80 percent and 90 percent of people with depression respond positively to treatment, and almost all patients gain some relief from their symptoms. But first, depression has to be recognized.

Alcohol and Suicide
• Ninety-six percent of alcoholics who die by suicide continue their substance abuse up to the end of their lives.
• Alcoholism is a factor in about 30 percent of all completed suicides.
• Approximately 7 percent of those with alcohol dependence will die by suicide.

Firearms and Suicide
• Although most gun owners reportedly keep a firearm in their home for "protection" or "self defense," 83 percent of gun related deaths in these homes are the result of a suicide, often by someone other than the gun owner.
• Firearms are used in more suicides than homicides.
• Death by firearms is the fastest growing method of suicide.
• Firearms account for 60 percent of all suicides.

- from National Statistics at http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=home.viewPage&page_id=050FEA9F-B064-4092-B1135C3A70DE1FDA