1. Fear of “Drugs” Firmly Ingrained in the Culture
Since Prohibition, the United States has developed a vibrant anti-drug culture. Even as cannabis is becoming more and more decriminalized, the fear-based assumption that addiction will flourish if we don’t banish certain substances, and have the authorities protect us from them, has been sown into the American psyche.
Nearly 50 years since Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs” (but only some of them), drugs both legal and illegal are consumed by a vast majority of American adults, be it sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and Tylenol, or heroin, cocaine, and LSD.
This clear failure of social policy, and the fact that a majority of Americans now support cannabis legalization, doesn’t erase the deeply ingrained assumption that banning some drugs will keep us safe. It’s reflected everywhere, from our laws, to our media, to the way we often treat people with substance abuse problems.
The FDA does not need to concoct a vast, secret conspiracy between itself, law enforcement, drug treatment centers, and the media in order to ban kratom. The anti-drug culture has deep roots in place for anyone to exploit for power or profit.
This, combined with a sharp decline in the funding of real investigative journalism, is why we see so many negative stories about kratom, despite the fact that it has helped rather than harmed a vast majority of its consumers.
2. The Decline of Journalism
In the past few decades, journalism in the United States has been in decline. Various factors have led to this, including the rise of 24-hour cable news, the internet, and consolidation of ownership of media outlets into a few giant conglomerates
On-the-ground, investigative newspaper reporters covering local communities used to be the rule. Now, as revenues are in steady decline, newsroom budgets are being slashed and journalists are being laid-off left and right. Not just in small newspapers, but in larger ones like the Denver Post and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Even popular news sites like Buzzfeed and Huffington Post are being swallowed up by giants and high quality journalists spat out into the unemployment line.
Sensational stories instead of informative ones are cheaper, and attract more attention and therefore advertising dollars. Stories that deliver good information require time, investigation, research, and a moderately educated readership. Newspapers, especially small ones, no longer have the budget to fund this type of labor.
3. An example: The latest in negative news about kratom
We turn to ExploreJeffersonPA.com, a local news outlet in central Pennsylvania. Among the stories they cover are local events, high school and college sports, obituaries, and crime.
News outlets are constantly searching for content. So when a representative of the Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug & Alcohol Commission sends ExploreJeffersonPA some information about this “new drug concern”, they have no reason not to take this information at face value. A local organization that provides “substance abuse prevention, intervention, and treatment services” seems like a good source.
The Armstrong-Indiana-Clarion Drug & Alcohol Commission perhaps gets updates about new drugs of concern from the NIDA and FDA. Federal agencies are supposed to represent the public instead of big business interests, and in many cases, they do (unless an over-the-counter supplement is threatening the bottom line of pharmaceutical corporations). So local drug treatment providers, who may often receive accurate information from these organizations, are unaware of a reason to disbelieve information about kratom, a drug they’ve probably never heard of.
When supposedly trusted agencies like the FDA say kratom is dangerous, a local reporter searching for information on kratom, for perhaps the first time, is unaware of a reason to disbelieve them. The reported “deaths” and the ingrained culture of fear around drugs leads to a typical fear-based narrative. At the top of a Google search lists other negative stories about kratom in other local news media. The reporter, trying to offer balance, may also find that, “Many of the other associated deaths that were investigated appeared to have resulted from adulterated products or taking kratom with other potent substances”.
A reporter might not have time to search for and interview a local person who has benefited from kratom (even blogging for this site, I have often have trouble finding someone to commit to an email interview). Occasionally, this occurs in local news, but not very often. Because of the decline of local news in general, this reporter is very likely being paid a low wage to write several stories per week, and may not have time to do comprehensive research into every topic.
Add a headline that captures a bit of fear, or concern, in the reader, and you give people the impression that kratom is a dangerous substance.
4. Counter this by educating reporters, rather than accusing them
Despite an overall drop in revenue in the past few decades, local news media has one advantage over other media – their stories appear easily in Google alerts and news searches, unlike many of the independent blogs, advocacy organizations, and scientific studies published on university websites or medical journals.
Unless we convince reporters in local and national news media to follow the science, the FDA and other parties interested in banning kratom will continue to get to them first.
Being aware of the ingrained fear of drugs in our culture, and the low incomes that reporters are often paid, it’s good to leave a polite comment on these stories on their websites or social media. We can let them know how kratom has helped us and others. We can show them the science. We can link them to some of the excellent rebuttals of FDA claims, and the scientific studies posted on americankratom.org
It’s important to remember that the reporters aren’t always flat out lying. They are repeating untruths that they believe to be true. Some negative kratom stories are obviously trying to push an anti-drug agenda. The ExploreJeffersonPA reporter didn’t seem as though she was trying to create click-bait or write something particularly sensationalist. I’m sure this reporter would be open to new knowledge and a different point of view about kratom.
We need local news reporters on our side. If we can get them to write more accurate stories, this can eventually create a balance to all the negative in the public mind around kratom.