Brett's law is a name commonly given to a Delaware statute (SB259) generally prohibiting use of the psychoactive herb Salvia divinorum. The law was named after Brett Chidester (September 16, 1988 – January 23, 2006), a teenager who committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning (by lighting a charcoal grill inside a closed tent).
The law was sponsored by Delaware Senator Karen Peterson,[nb 1] and signed into law three months after the teen's death. It classifies Salvia divinorum as a Delaware Schedule I controlled substance, analogous to Federal Schedule I, making possession, use or consumption of the drug punishable as a class B misdemeanor.
Chidester's parents have argued that the herb played a major role in the teenager's death, and have advocated for "Schedule I"-like legislation beyond their home state of Delaware. In particular, Brett's mother, Kathleen Chidester, has continued campaigning across the United States. For example, three years after Brett's death in written testimony in support of Senator Richard Colburn's proposed Senate Bill 9 to the Maryland State Legislature, saying - "My hope and goal is to have salvia regulated across the U.S. It's my son's legacy and I will not end my fight until this happens."
It was reported on August 3, 2007 that Chidester's parents intended suing 'Ethnosupply'—a Canadian based Internet company that sold Salvia divinorum to Brett some four months before his death. The parents allege that the distributors knew salvia could be dangerous and failed to warn their son. The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages for their pain and suffering, lost future earnings, funeral expenses, etc.
There has not been anywhere else, either before or since this controversial incident, any other reported cases involving or alleging Salvia divinorum as a serious factor in suicide, overdose, accidental, or any other kind of death. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual US based survey sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), for 2006 estimated that about 1.8 million persons aged 12 or older had used Salvia divinorum in their lifetime, of which approximately 750,000 had done so in that year. The following year, 2007, saw the annual figure rise from 750,000 to 1 million US users.
San Francisco attorney Alex Coolman has commented - "It's remarkable that Chidester's parents, and only Chidester's parents, continue to be cited over and over again by the mainstream media in their coverage of the supposed "controversy" over the risks of Salvia divinorum."
Tiffin University psychologist Jonathan Appel, who co-authoured a 2007 paper in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction on the rising popularity of salvia, expressed reluctance to draw any firm conclusions about Brett Chidester's death. "I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying it caused him to commit suicide," he says. Such explanations are, "a way to try to make sense of something that's pretty senseless. We're always looking for rationalizations and reasons, particularly when there aren't any."
Bryan Roth, a psychiatrist and pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina who has led the research into how salvia's active constituent salvinorin A works, says it's difficult to say what role the drug might have played in Brett Chidester's suicide. Although "it's tragic that this young guy killed himself," he says, "there's no way of knowing if salvia had anything to do with it. It would seem, given the apparent widespread use of salvia, that if these are side effects, they don't occur at very high prevalence. Otherwise, the ERs would be filled with people having bad salvia reactions."
Salvia expert Daniel Siebert has said, "He must have already had some thoughts about suicide. I don't think salvia's just going to put thoughts into peoples' heads. Mentally healthy people don't decide to take such a drastic action based on [an idea] they had during a drug state. Psychedelics basically amplify a lot of your own internal stuff. If you're already having some kind of dark thoughts, a psychedelic experience could amplify that, and it could lead to a problem for some people."
Richard Glen Boire, a senior fellow at the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics, has said that the theory that using salvia encouraged Brett to reach conclusions about the nature of life that were conducive to suicide could apply to some of the greatest pieces of art in the history of the world. "It would make Nietzsche a controlled substance. There is a lot of cultural production out there that shows a way of looking at the world that isn't all sunny and rosy."
- Senator Karen Peterson's largest group campaign donations in 2006 came from 'Beer, Wine & Liquor' industries.
- 6ABC.com (May 19, 2006). "NJ to Crackdown [sic] on Salvia Use: Death of Delaware Teen Prompts Reform".
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (2006). "Facts and Figures - National Statistics". National Center for Health Statistics.
- Chalmers, Mike (2007-08-03). "Parents sue over dead son’s salvia use". The News Journal (Delaware Online). Archived from the original on 2007-08-05.
- Collins, David (2009-01-28). "Dangerous Herb Could Be Outlawed". WBALTV-Baltimore. Maryland.
- Coolman, Alex (2007). "Brett Chidester and Salvia: "Suicide Solution" Redux". Drug Law, Policy and Politics in California, the Ninth Circuit, and the United States. Retrieved 2009-02-20.[dead link]
- Hingson, Ralph; Timothy Heeren, Michael Winter & Henry Wechsler (April 2005). "Magnitude of Alcohol-Related Mortality and Morbidity Among U.S. College Students Ages 18-24: Changes from 1998 to 2001" (PDF). Annual Review of Public Health 26: 259–279. doi:10.1146/annurev.publhealth.26.021304.144652. PMID 15760289. figures cited by the Marin Institute
- MiSP (2006). "Follow the Money". Delaware/Peterson. The National Institute on Money in State Politics.
- Moran, Terry; Max Culhane (October 3, 2007). "Parents Blame Exotic Plant for Son's Suicide". ABC News. Retrieved August 7, 2009.
- Peterson, Sen. Karen (2006). "Chapter 256—Formerly Senate Bill No 259 (aka "Brett's Law")". An Act to Amend Title 16 of the Delaware Code Relating to the Uniform Controlled Substances Act. The General Assembly of the State of Delaware. Retrieved 2007-10-16.
- Michael, Sara (2009-01-28). "Lawmakers seek to make hallucinogenic herb illegal". The Baltimore Examiner. Archived from the original on 2009-02-06. Maryland.
- SAMHSA (February 2008). "The NSDUH Report: Use of Specific Hallucinogens: 2006". Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Retrieved 2008-05-09.
- Sullum, Jacob (December 2009). "The Salvia Ban Wagon". Reason Magazine. Retrieved 2010-01-04.
- Brett Chidester - Stolen Angel - memorial blog by Kathleen Chidester, Brett's mother
- CNN’s 'legal but lethal' broadcast (asx video file)
- Salvia divinorum Scotland’s “Brett’s Law” pages—with Salvia community perspectives, including:
- Senator Karen E. Peterson