Several U.S. police departments are falsely warning members of the public that their crystal meth could be contaminated with coronavirus, and that they should bring it to a police station to be tested.
The campaigns appear to be a jokey way of getting people to admit to authorities that they are in possession of meth, presumably so they can be arrested. Hilarious, right? Who doesn’t need a good laugh with the threat of a global pandemic looming large?
The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is behind nearly 3,000 deaths around the world, and there have been more than 83,000 confirmed cases in more than 50 countries.
At a time when most people are searching for reliable information, law enforcement officials in Decatur County, Kansas; St. Francis County, Arkansas; Merrill, Wisconsin; Johnson City, Texas; and Tavares, Florida, have posted hoaxes claiming that coronavirus could be in the local meth supply.
“WARNING: If you have recently purchased meth locally, it may be contaminated with the Corona Virus (sic). Please take it to the Sheriff's Office or Police Department and they will test it for free. If you're not comfortable going into an office, please contact any officer and they'll test your Meth in the privacy of your home. Please spread the word!,” says a Facebook post by the St. Francis County Sheriff's Office.
In the comment section, the admin for the page added, “We have testers available 24/7.”
This isn’t the first time cops have made light of a public health crisis in an attempt to bust people. As reported by the Washington Post, in 2016 the Granite Shoals Police Department said the Ebola virus could be poisoning local meth and heroin supplies; that hoax resulted in at least one arrest. Last year, police in Mint Hill, North Carolina, tried to trick drug consumers into coming to cops to get their drugs properly weighed, so as not to be scammed by their dealers.
Hakique Virani, a public health and addiction medicine specialist at the University of Alberta, said police should stop spreading misinformation.
"It's all getting pretty discouraging,” he said. “We've heard falsehoods from police departments about overdosing by touching fentanyl, and about naloxone causing kids to have drug binge parties. Now coronavirus in methamphetamine? Whether they're trying to be clever or not, I think it's best if people just rely on police for law enforcement, comedians for comedy, and public health professionals for public health advice.”
In response to backlash over the coronavirus post, the Merrill Police Department said on Facebook that it was attempting to “take those easy grabs at removing poison from our community.”
“That is our role which we un-apologetically (sic) must fulfill. It is our hope that an arrest would be the positive catalyst someone may need to start recovery,” the post said.
Several of the police departments have deleted their posts in light of the criticism.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.