It began with the case of Rudy Eugene, who was shot dead by Miami police after attacking and cannibalizing Ronald Poppo. According to reports, Mr. Eugene continued eating Mr. Poppo’s face even after being shot, which gave rise to the zombie rumors. However, according to the Miami police, Eugene looked like he might have been on the designer drug known as ‘bath salts’.
As the media rushed to find dozens more cases of zombie cannibals, ‘zombie apocalypse’ became one of the highest trending items on Google, with searches for ‘bath salts’ and ‘zombies’ reaching more than five million hits.
‘Bath salts’ are amphetamine-like synthetic stimulants sold in so-called ‘head shops’ and on the web and contain substances similar to those found in the khat plant, a shrub native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
People under the influence of these substances report hallucinations, paranoia, chest pain and blurry vision and appear agitated and combative – not exactly your idea of a good time but not exactly the equivalent of raising the dead either.
Now that zombie reports have reached epidemic proportions, it’s unlikely that some journalists will let any of these facts get in the way of a sensational story. After all, the facts didn’t matter the last time we dealt with zombie problems. Seven years ago, when ‘meth mania’ was at its peak, an infamous Newsweek cover story entitled ‘America's Most Dangerous Drug’ detailed how people became ‘zombies’ while under the influence of speed.
Before that there were ecstasy zombies, crack cocaine zombies, LSD zombies and marijuana zombies. The discovery that drugs turn people into zombies is not new, but distracts the public from the very real dangers of the most popular drug of all: alcohol.
The dangers of alcohol are well documented. In a 2007 Lancet report, British psychopharmacologist David Nutt and other experts ranked 20 psychoactive drugs according to 16 criteria. Alcohol came out on top, followed by heroin and crack cocaine, while khat showed up in 15th place.
Another 2007 report on the damage done by alcohol reported that the “direct social and economic costs associated with alcohol ($7.4 billion) were more than twice the costs associated with illicit drugs ($3.6 billion.)”
Based on that, one would expect governments to criminalize alcohol consumption, but that would take all the fun out of state dinners, and since there are so far no stories about alcohol zombies, it probably won’t happen anytime soon.