Sunday, September 19, 2004

The Secrets Of Mail-Order Steroid Success

Our writing assignment is on authoritative information, which made me think of an interesting example I read in a 202 reading, from the Sep 2, 2002 Business Week, called The Underground Web. I’ve excerpted it below. It raises the issue of who can be considered a trusted source on the web. The Elite Fitness site is clearly not an authoritative source (at least, not in my opinion). But what about a more reasonable site like MSN Health, which has MDs posting advice?

The Underground Web
The easy availability of drugs on the Web proved deadly for Eric Perrin. An avid bodybuilder, Perrin bought some dinitrophenol, or DNP, over the Net last summer because it was supposed to help him lose weight and get better muscle definition. While DNP is promoted on some fitness Web sites, it's illegal to sell for human consumption. The chemical is legal only for use in industrial applications such as a coating on railroad ties to kill fungus. In humans, DNP can shut down the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. Last August, Perrin took DNP for several days. As his body temperature began to rise and his heart started to race, his mother, Barbara, grew concerned. ''He told me, 'Don't worry, Mom, I'll be all right,''' she says. ''He was in a lot of pain.'' Eric died on Aug. 6 at a hospital near his home in Baldwin, N.Y. He was 22.While the local U.S. Attorney is prosecuting the man who allegedly sold Eric Perrin the DNP, Barbara Perrin thinks the dealer isn't the real culprit. She places most of the blame on the Internet and Elite Fitness, a New York company that runs the Web site where her son read about the supposed benefits of DNP and got in touch with the dealer. She is convinced that without the Web, her son would be alive today. ''DNP is not something you find easily,'' she says. Without the Internet, ''Eric may have gotten steroids, but not DNP.''Even today, Elite Fitness provides what appears to be a forum for people to meet who are interested in drugs. With a quick search of the site, BusinessWeek found dozens of postings from bodybuilders promoting the benefits of DNP, explaining how to use the drug, and downplaying its health risks. After one visitor asked on an electronic bulletin board why people die from taking DNP, one of the site's moderators responded by writing: ''Get your fluids, and you'll [b]e A-O.K.'' Another moderator posted ground rules for members to communicate in private so they could share information about ''sources.'' And members write that the best way to check out a source for restricted drugs is to e-mail a moderator. Paul Willingham, a partner at New York's Caliber Design Inc., which owns Elite Fitness, says the site simply provides a vehicle for bodybuilders to talk about any subject. ''We don't provide a forum to buy and sell drugs,'' he says. ''We're building a community for discussing physical fitness.''


Blogger Catherine Newman said...

While the Net can be harmful in its efficiency and reach, how is it different than what can be accomplished though the postal service or word of mouth? On a personal level a rumor passed on though my social network can be just as damaging as if it were on the net (given that I am not famous and few people are looking for me)

I think it is dangerous to blame the Internet for the tragedy suffered by the Perrin family. As with most things, it is often difficult to accurately balance the positive aspects with the few but devastating negative occurrences in any situation especially on the personal level.

Noting that there are regulations about what types of information can be disseminated though the mail (which is strictly enforced) I would like to return to my favor topic of transparency.

In the article above, I believe Eric Perrin made a calculated evaluation based on the transparency of the information on this one subject on this one site. But as the Internet becomes more ubiquitous, information (including misinformation) is being provided from a greater number of sources and thus the level on confidence in many sources should be greatly reduced. Here I think a community-based model is appropriate. In a community or social network trust and reliability are built over time through experience. But the Internet is often treated as a 1-stop shop for information, where the answer you want can easily be found, without thought to if you are shopping in a pharmacy for a hammer.

7:07 PM  

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