Drug War

Voodoo Pharmacology Literalized: The Drug That Turns People Into Flesh-Eating Zombies


On Tuesday I noted that news outlets were uncritically regurgitating fact-free speculation that some sort of drug—"bath salts," possibly, or imitation LSD, or maybe cocaine—made Rudy Eugene eat Ronald Poppo's face on Miami's MacArthur Causeway last Saturday. Since then, the coverage has become, if anything, more lurid and credulous, in the manner typical of drug panics, with one outlet after another recycling the same rumors, baseless pronouncements, and horror stories (some of which I have noted here before). One commendable exception: Writing in Time, which historically has not been known for calm, well-informed reporting on drugs (or pretty much anything else that scares people), Reason contributor Maia Szalavitz explains "Why Drugs Are Getting a Bum Rap in the Miami Face-Eating Attack." Szalavitz notes that the vast majority of "drug-related" violence is in fact prohibition-related violence, resulting from black-market disputes rather than the malign psychoactive effects of prohibited intoxicants. She adds that, given all the millions of people who have used drugs said to cause murder and mayhem, you would expect to see a lot more violence if the allegations were even close to true. She points out that journalists routinely rely on police, who have a strong incentive to exaggerate the dangers posed by illegal substances and whose views are skewed by the sorts of drug users they tend to encounter, for expert advice about the effects of forbidden chemicals. Both cops and reporters, she observes, tend to focus on extreme examples that by definition tell us little or nothing about the behavior of the typical drug user. Whether or not it turns out that Eugene consumed "bath salts" before attacking Poppo (and it bears emphasizing that there are no toxicological results yet), it should (but sadly does not) go without saying that his behavior was highly unusual, if not unique, among people who consume these quasi-legal speed substitutes:

Stimulants of any type rarely lead to violence in people who don't have a prior history of violent behavior. Typically, drugs enhance or disinhibit pre-existing tendencies, rather than provoking entirely new behavior. And drugs are far from the only reason that a person might strip naked and become violent, as the Miami man did.

Indeed, the best predictor of violent behavior is a previous history of violent behavior, which we now know that the Miami man had. He was apparently the first person ever to be tasered by North Miami Beach police. Why? He had beaten and was threatening to kill his mother.

Also, while overdoses of stimulants do overheat the body, they certainly don't, as the Miami police representative suggested, "burn organs alive." Blaming LSD for violent behavior is even further off base. No research has associated LSD or related psychedelic drugs with violence, and higher potency isn't likely to change that.

Without detracting from the consistently thoughtful and level-headed work produced by Szalavitz, who is almost singlehandedly atoning for Time's historical hysteria about illegal drugs, I would argue that there is less excuse than ever for the anti-drug alarmism that is still routinely peddled by reputable news organizations. Here are some of the more embarrassing headlines generated by the "Causeway Cannibal" story:

CBS News: "Bath salts, drug alleged 'face-chewer' Rudy Eugene may have been on, plague police and doctors"

Reuters: "Did Drugs Make Rudy Eugene Chew on a Naked Miami Man's Face?"

U.S. News & World Report: "Miami's 'Naked Zombie' Proves Need to Ban Bath Salts, Experts Say"

Toronto Sun: "Miami cannibal may have been high on 'bath salts'"

National Post: "Highly addictive drug blamed for cannibal attack in Miami a growing threat in Maritime Canada"

The Huffington Post: "Bath Salts: The 'Cannibal' From Miami's Alleged Dangerous Drug Of Choice"

In my book Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use, I call the persistently popular belief that drugs make people do evil "voodoo pharmacology," a term I use because it calls to mind zombies animated by magic. Here you have a literalized example: a drug that supposedly turned someone (who may or may not have actually used it) into a flesh-eating zombie. And the press, rather than questioning this outlandish claim, amplifies it. Even if it weren't easier than ever before to look up research and seek out alternative perspectives, how much sense does it require to be skeptical upon being told that an alarmingly popular drug commonly causes irrational outbursts of vicious violence? How could such a drug ever gain a wide following? This is not rocket science; it is just journalism. 

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  1. Look at that guy! I mean, who wouldn’t want to eat his face? The Colonel couldn’t do better I tell ya’.

    1. OK, I’m confused. I thought zombies went, “Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains!”
      not “Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace!”

      1. The way to a man’s brain is through the face.

        1. That must’ve been what zombie Moosolini was doing with Allen L. Rickman (whom some of you may remember from his libertarian activities) in I Was A Teenage Zombie.

  2. Jacob, these are people who believed the stories about jenkem. They believed people were inhaling shit stench. They’re bonecrushingly stupid scum who seek no truths, only headlines. Excluding people such as yourself and the reason staff and a few others like them, journalism attracts the lowest of the low; people who aren’t even statists; just statist-enablers. Fluffers. And even making that comparison is a disservice to fluffers, who are at least doing an honest job.

    1. Speaking of words that begin with the letters F-l-u-f-f, is it just me or has Fluffy not been around for a while?

      1. He shows up occasionally. Maybe he’s busy.

      2. He pretty much gave up on his blog. Maybe he’s writing another book.

      3. And where is MNG? Was MNG Mary?

        1. MNG was not Mary. A theory some of us share is that he was doing a portion of the “worst chat room ever” griefing and when he couldn’t do it anymore, he lost interest.

    2. I also thought of jenkem, noticed the example headlines in the article and was about to go on a rant about them myself, but I cant do better than you have Epi.
      +1 to you buddy.

  3. We must forgive the “reputable news organizations” their hysteria, for they have the most delicious-faced journalists.

    1. Punchable face =/= edible face

  4. Whether or not it turns out that Eugene consumed “bath salts” before attacking Poppo (and it bears emphasizing that there are no toxicological results yet)

    This cannot be repeated enough. We also don’t know if any pharma panels have been conducted to either support or R/O if “bath saltz” is the offending culprit. Even with a tox screen and full report, conclusively stating that “bath saltz” (depending on how the ingredients were metabolized, absorbed, and utilized by the body) is at best, pretty weak tea and shoddy “science”.

    Stimulants of any type rarely lead to violence in people who don’t have a prior history of violent behavior.

    This is, for the most part, true, though it should be emphasized that any substance can react in each person differently.

    He was apparently the first person ever to be tasered by North Miami Beach police. Why? He had beaten and was threatening to kill his mother.

    This is critical and something most people overlook. If you have a nice cocktail of psychosis and schizoid behaviour, odds are that mind altering substances can either inhibit or exacerbate this latent, default behaviour. But the most important thing is to demonize, sensationalize, and interalize a faulty premise as “undeniable truth”. It’s disgraceful and dilutes true manifestations of legit mental illness and root causes of violent behaviour.

    Why can’t we say the tazer caused the violent behaviour?

    1. Maybe the Bath Salts had a calming effect on him and the attack would have been even worse without them.

      1. And if that’s the case shouldn’t we require everyone to take two Bath Salts a day or whatever you do with them.

      2. You mean the way that the stimulus kept economy from totally going into the tank.

        Wait – what?

  5. One isolated incident is the rule.

  6. If the drug is the cause of the attack, then how isn’t that an expiation of the offender? If you have been truly stripped of agency, isn’t more akin to temporary insanity? And once the drug wears off, shouldn’t he be set free? The narrative assumes that sober he would have never harmed anyone.

    1. Yes, but he took the drug willingly, correct? Therefore, in your scenario, the act of taking the drug is the real crime, which toes in nicely with the logic of jailing drug users, regardless of their resultant behavior.

      1. This is true. Not proud to admit this but…

        Last summer I caused a 3-car accident, drunk driving, yes. As a result I was charged with _6_ violations including failing to remain right-of-center, neglegent driving – you know things that actually make the accident.

        Went to court wearing my I’m a middle-aged white guy who can afford a lawyer* outfit on and, in the end, all charges but the DUI were dropped. They only wanted to spank me for drinking. Almost as if it didn’t matter that any property or personal damage was done.

        IOW: they didn’t care that I hit two other cars with people in them. They on cared that I had a .09 BAC, just over the MD .08 limit.

        *Yes. It mattered. This was my second DUI (last was 25 yrs ago) and I caused lots of pain but watched a young black guy with a white wife/woman and two scruffy kids in court with him for a first-time DUI that did not involve an accident. He got hammered.

        1. You didn’t get the right lawyer.

          A friend of mine got charged with DUI with a .15 (which elevates it to aggravated), and got all charges dropped because he gave three grand to a lawyer who is friends with the DA.

          1. Wow. Even still, consider myself awfully lucky.

          2. …which worked because the lawyer made a deal to let the DA screw a pro bono client he had.

        2. Same thing around here Pi. Watching traffic court will make you cry. Only the people too ignorant or poor to fight get any penalties, they get hammered and everyone else gets a pass.

          BTW, I only drink at home when I am ten feet from my bed. I never ever ever touch a car if I have had even a drop. Keep your fucking ass away from the car when you are drinking. Screw the legal consequences, you are going to kill someone.

          1. ^^THIS^^ I also I never ever ever touch my truck if I have had even a drop. Not even to grab something out of the cab. It’s just not worth it.

          2. I’ve probably driven legally drunk a few times, but I haven’t driven incapacitated since high school.

            The one and only time I’ve ever taken a breathalyzer, the midget state trooper who gave it to me was so enraged that I wasn’t drunk, he gave it to me two more times, and then called in two more patrol cars to give me to more tests. When he couldn’t pop me for DUI, he cited me for open container (for unopened bottles legally stored in the trunk), eluding (for pulling into a driveway when he turned on the lights rather than the nonexistent shoulder of a busy rural highway) in addition to the speeding that I was actually guilty of. Got everything thrown out but the speeding.

            1. Read my story below Sugar and you can kinda understand why they act the way they do. That was one experience for me, for troopers it is a regular occurence.

          3. Not to scold you too much Pi, but here is a DUI story just for fun.

            Three years ago I was driving home on a cold pissy rainy day down highway 28 going south. Everyone was going about 70mph. The highway is straight as an arrow for 15 miles or so. It is two lane with no shoulder and through one of the largest ‘wilderness’ areas left in the continental U.S., i.e. the middle of nowhere.

            Two cars in front of me was a tractor-trailer rig pulling a low-boy trailer, you know, the kind used to haul extra heavy eqpt.

            The guy in front of the tractor-trailer was drunk and crossed the center line. He just clipped a boat being towed by a pick-up in the oncoming lane. That caused the boat to fishtail, and trying to correct, the driver of the truck crossed the center line himself.

            The tractor trailer rig hit the truck head on. The tractor and the trailer went completely over the truck and boat, grinding it into something that was unrecognizable.

            I stopped a ways back and walked up to the scene. As I got close I noticed two women who had also stopped. They had looked at the scene for a few seconds then ran to the side of the road and were puking in the grass.

            1. There were three kids in the truck. They had come up from Gonzales to duck hunt in the famous Catahoula swamp. The 19 y/o driver was dismembered and scattered over the road. I didnt actually see his parts until I accidentally stepped on a piece of his intestines. It was squishy and made me slip a little. His head and right shoulder, sans the right arm was the first significant part I saw. His eyeballs were gone, and I noticed that there was no blood and thought thats good…he died instantly.

              The other two were not so lucky. The 14 yo was trapped in the back passenger seat, crushed into the frame. I thought he was dead too, but he came to and just moaned and cried, unable to make any sense. I asked some other people where the third was. They said there were only two. Nope, I replied, we have a driver and someone in the back, who was in the front passenger seat? We fanned out and searched the woods.

              1. Since the hwy is over a swamp it is raised up pretty high. We found the trajectory of the third kid, it was marked in red through the trees, starting about 20 feet up. He was a ten year old, and by the time we got to him he was covered with fire ants. I tried to brush them off his liver, which was still attached but laying in the mud, but those are some persistent little buggers. After a minute, he opened his eyes and said something, or not, I couldnt tell. One guy tried to ask him his name but he just died right there, just like that.

                I went back up on the roadway. The trucker had a broken nose, that was all.
                The drunk was unscratched. He was standing away from everyone else talking to an off duty deputy who just happened to be in the line of traffic and had stopped. I was walking over to them, I could hear some other guys behind me walking in the same direction.
                The deputy saw us coming and must have seen it in our eyes. He was white faced with fear and clutching his glock, but had it pointed at the ground. He said ” dont even think about it fellas!”. I am pretty sure if we had not stopped, he wouldnt havee done a thing, but we did stop.

                The fucking drunk guy didnt have a scratch on him. I hope he went home and hanged himself.

            2. Dude, I totally deserve the scolding. Doen’t mean the other issue didn’t strike me so hard.

          4. I know and, trust me, the legal stuff’s not the least of the consequences, if that makes you feel any better. My life’s been pretty well fucked since so I’m not trying to hero it up or anything.

            Which was why I was reluctant to throw it out there. Even without you all knowing me, I would rather you not think less of me. But the narrative was powerful.

            1. I dont think less of you, and I applaud your courage for owning up to it. Everyone it seems is guilty of driving under the influence at least once. I am not innocent of it, but that has been a long time ago. I was just lucky that I never hurt anyone and didnt get caught. We do it because we dont realize at the time what a horrible chance we are taking, just how dangerous it is. Nothing is worth that.

              Again, I dont think less of you one whit. Stick around dude, you are a credit to this site.

              1. Thx for the cool

            2. BTW: the downthread comment about “No Angry Drunks” was about me. I had to learn that the hard way and regret more than you can imagine how many others I took down with me. Not just the other cars’ passengers.

              I’m just angry and need to learn to deal with that.

              That said, I suppose after a few bath salts, I might start looking for a few Face Stands. I’ll lay off.

      2. We don’t know yet whether he took *anything*. Toxicology reports isn’t in.

    2. If reason were a factor in this, we wouldn’t live in the world we do. You shouldn’t ask stupid questions, NutraSweet. It’s quite hilarious how your utterly rational and reasonable question is “stupid” in this context. And quite depressing.

      1. You are the reason no one likes you.

  7. Even if it weren’t easier than ever before to look up research and seek out alternative perspectives, how much sense does it require to be skeptical upon being told that an alarmingly popular drug commonly causes irrational outbursts of violence? How could such a drug ever gain a wide following?

    Whaaat? Who doesn’t want to turn into a flesh-eating zombie?

    1. I’ve always wanted to take something that turned me into a giant green dinosaur vampire. Sort of a Hulk-Godzilla hybrid. Plus fangs. Oh, yeah, wings, don’t forget the wings.

      Wait until that hits the newsies!

      1. Like this guy?


        1. That is freakin hilarious. The guy probably cant read.

          “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” – Clemens.

          1. That’s kind of adorable, really. I love the pic of him standing in the middle of the crowd of kids.

  8. I still can’t get over the fact that his body wasn’t even cold before the police had released the cause of his hunger, meanwhile when asked about the BAC a cop had on a breathalyzer from a couple weeks back, reporters accept that the results won’t be “publicly available for at least 4-6 weeks.”

    1. The body’s still not cold. The victim is still alive. Sort of.

  9. Even if it weren’t easier than ever before to look up research and seek out alternative perspectives, how much sense does it require to be skeptical upon being told that an alarmingly popular drug commonly causes irrational outbursts of violence?

    All these things require thinking, and thinking is hard. Reading reaesarch means you have to look at numbers and graphs and all that kind of stuff and…well, it’s just a lot quicker to reproduce the press releases. Most journalism school grads these days are students who flunked out of marketing. The very mention of the word statistics sends them into a blind panic.

  10. To get back to the warning that I received – you may take it with however many grains of salt that you wish – that the brown acid that is circulating around us isn’t too good. It is suggested that you stay away from that. Of course it’s your own trip. So be my guest, but please be advised that there is a warning on that one and my face isn’t a hamburger, ok?

  11. This goes with my “No Angry Drunks” hypothesis.

    There’s no such thing as an angry drunk. There are, as Szalavitz notes, angry people who basically mask their anger under normal circs and then, when their inhibitions are low, they revert to their own truth. They just say what they really think with no social filter.

    Same goes for the MMA guy who shroomed and ripped his training partner’s heart out beacuse he believed him to posessed. I say that you can’t even hallucination out of whole cloth if you’d not already head your head stuffed full of gods and demons.

    1. There’s no such thing as an angry drunk. There are, as Szalavitz notes, angry people who basically mask their anger under normal circs and then, when their inhibitions are low, they revert to their own truth. They just say what they really think with no social filter.

      This is my dad. Who is an asshole at the best of times, and a NASTY SHIT when drunk (Which he is a lot).

      1. Then I hope it’s not too late for all of you to find some peace.

        Anger sucks for everyone, worst of all for those you love and care about.

  12. alarmingly popular drug commonly causes irrational outbursts of violence?

    If it is so “alarmingly popular,” why is this the first case I can recall seeing where there was an “outburst of violence”?

    Oh, I know why….because sensationalism sells. Fuck the media (present company excluded).

    1. We don’t know that this is a case of “bath salt” violence because no-one yet knows what was actually in his system. Everyone is just speculating.

  13. No doubt man the zombie apocalypse is near!


    1. I’m more concerned about the Anonbot apocalypse.

  14. I’m kind of hoping the toxicology report comes back clean.

    “I for one welcome our zombie overlords…”

    …with a 12 gauge shotgun and a .45 caliber Sig Saur P250 that is.

    1. Have you seen the Sig Equinox .45. It’s pretty sharp.

  15. Morgan Student Admits To Eating Missing Joppatowne [Baltimore] Man’s Dismembered Body Parts

    WJZ has learned the suspect and the missing man lived at the same address. Right now, their relationship is unclear.

    The same “relationship” I typically have with an Arby’s Big Montana, essentially.

    1. I am definitely going to hell, but I laughed.

      1. Then my work here is done. 😉

  16. AFAICT, the only evidence this guy was on bath salts is that he acted crazy. Which is evidence that bath salts make people crazy.

    And it vexes me that libertarian (Objectivist last I remember) Peter Breggin has jumped onto this bandwagon to get publicity against psychoactive drugs.

  17. Reminds me of another recent zombie drug scare. Some sort of tree-based drug out of Columbia, allegedly just sort of turns the victim’s brain off so they can lead around by the nose, robbed, etc. Wasn’t so much portrayed as a drug people took as one that they were dosed with by criminals. I forget the details.

  18. “Stimulants of any type rarely lead to violence in people who don’t have a prior history of violent behavior.” I completely disagree with that statement. Alcohol is a stimulant and I’m sure it creates violent tendencies in people who previously were non-violent before consuming alcohol. I’ve known many people who used Meth, and they were like Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. They would be nice, normal people when they weren’t using. When they were using, they would exhibit bizarre behaviors, and they would become violent at the drop of a hat. You just had to look at them the wrong way. Drugs in general can and DO create violent tendencies, and crazy behavior in otherwise normal people. Now whether the “zombie” man was on drugs remains to be seen. He may have been mentally ill, or it could have been the result of drugs. We’ll just have to wait and see.

    1. That would all be fascinating if alcohol were a stimulant. It’s a central nervous system depressant.

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