#418 Science Clashes With Politics In The United Kingdom

Date: Tue, 3 Nov 2009
Subject: #418 Science Clashes With Politics In The United Kingdom

SCIENCE CLASHES WITH POLITICS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #418 – Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The British government faces a revolt of its scientific advisers after
it fired the chair of its independent Advisory Council on the Misuse
of Drugs (ACMD) last week. At least two members of the ACMD have
already resigned in protest.

The ACMD is an independent expert body that advises on drug-related
issues including recommendations on classification under the 1971
Misuse of Drugs Act. It’s website is at http://drugs.homeoffice.gov.uk/drugs-laws/acmd/

Home Secretary Alan Johnson demanded the resignation of Professor
David Nutt on Friday. Professor Nutt’s views which resulted in his
firing resulted from the release of this report http://www.crimeandjustice.org.uk/opus1714/Estimating_drug_harms.pdf

You may follow the scandal at this link http://www.mapinc.org/people/David+Nutt
Please let the British press know what you think by sending letters
to the newspapers.

Monday The Times published Professor Nutt’s OPED, below, presenting
his view.

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Source: Times, The (UK)

Copyright: 2009 Times Newspapers Ltd

Contact: letters@thetimes.co.uk

Author: David Nutt

PENALTIES FOR DRUG USE MUST REFLECT HARM

How Can True Scientists Advise This or Any Other Government?

In July this year I gave a lecture on the assessment of drug harms and
how these relate to the legislation controlling drugs. According to
Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, some contents of this lecture meant
I had crossed the line from science to policy and so he sacked me. I
do not know which comments were beyond the line or, indeed, where the
line was, but the Government has lost its major expert on drugs and
drug harms and may indeed lose the rest of its scientific advisers in
the field.

All drugs are potentially harmful and many of the harms can be
measured. We can use scientific methods to estimate these and produce
a ranking, and compare our scores with their location in the Misuse of
Drugs Act. Heroin and cocaine appear to be in the correct place
(Class A), whereas Ecstasy (Class A) and cannabis do not (Class B).

The reason for making drugs illegal is to let society reduce harms by
punishing their sale and use. The purpose of having the ABC classes
is to scale penalties according to relative harms. Possession of a
class A drug for personal use can lead to seven years in prison, for
class B, it is five years and for class C, two years.

The classes are also important in educating the public about the
relative harms of drugs. So it is imperative that the classification
of drugs truly reflects their harms, otherwise injustices may occur
and the educational message be undermined. Scientific inquiry into
drug harms must also be honest and accurate so that the best quality
evidence is available to the experts and government. Legal drugs such
as alcohol and tobacco are as harmful as many illegal drugs and
currently score highly on our ranking list.

What are appropriate penalties for drug use? This question has moral
and practical aspects, but the penalties must reflect the real and
relative harms of drugs.

My sacking has cast a huge shadow over the relationship of science to
policy. Several of the science experts from the Advisory Council on
the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) have resigned in protest and it seems
likely that many others will follow suit. This means the Home Office
no longer has a functioning advisory group, which is very unfortunate
given the ever-increasing problems of drugs and the emergence of new
ones. Also it seems unlikely that any “true” scientist – one who can
only speak the truth – will be able to work for this, or future, Home
Secretaries.

Others have suggested a way forward: create a truly independent
advisory council. This is the only realistic way out of the current
mess.

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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