Government drug adviser David Nutt sacked
Professor David Nutt, the government’s chief drug adviser, has been sacked a day after claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
Nutt incurred the wrath of the government when he claimed in a paper that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary has asked Professor Nutt to resign as chair of the ACMD [Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs].
“In a letter he [Alan Johnson] expressed surprise and disappointment over Professor Nutt’s comments which damage efforts to give the public clear messages about the dangers of drugs.
“We remain determined to crack down on all illegal substances and minimise their harm to health and society as a whole.”
Nutt had criticised politicians for “distorting” and “devaluing” the research evidence in the debate over illicit drugs.
Arguing that some “top” scientific journals had published “horrific examples” of poor quality research on the alleged harm caused by some illicit drugs, the Imperial College professor called for a new way of classifying the harm caused by both legal and illegal drugs.
“Alcohol ranks as the fifth most harmful drug after heroin, cocaine, barbiturates and methadone. Tobacco is ranked ninth,” he wrote in the paper from the centre for crime and justice studies at King’s College, London, published yesterday.
“Cannabis, LSD and ecstasy, while harmful, are ranked lower at 11, 14 and 18 respectively.”
Nutt said tonight he was disappointed by the decision but linked it to “political” considerations. “It’s unusual political times, I suppose, elections and all that. It’s disappointing,” he told Sky News. “But politics is politics and science is science and there’s a bit of a tension between them sometimes.”
Nutt clashed with Jacqui Smith when she was home secretary after he compared the 100 deaths a year from horseriding with the 30 deaths a year linked to ecstasy.
Smith also ignored the recommendation of Nutt’s advisory committee that cannabis should not be reclassified from class C back to class B, leading to heavier penalties.
He criticised Smith’s use of the “precautionary principle” to justify her decision to reclassify cannabis and said that by erring on the side of caution politicians “distort” and “devalue” the research evidence.
“This leads us to a position where people really don’t know what the evidence is,” he said adding that the initial decision to downgrade the classification of cannabis led to a fall in the use of the drug.
Nutt acknowledged there was a “relatively small risk” of psychotic illness linked to cannabis use. But he argued that to prevent one episode of schizophrenia it would be necessary to “stop 5,000 men aged 20 to 25 from ever using” cannabis.
Nutt also renewed his support for reclassifying ecstasy from a class A drug to class B, saying the advisory committee “won the intellectual argument” over the issue but obviously didn’t win the decision after the home secretary vetoed the move.
He said the quality of some research papers about cannabis and ecstasy was so poor the articles had to be retracted.
Richard Garside, director of the centre for crime and justice, said Nutt’s briefing paper gave an insight into what drugs policy might look like if it was based on the research evidence rather than political or moral positioning.
Garside added: “I’m shocked and dismayed that the home secretary appears to believe that political calculation trumps honest and informed scientific opinion. The message is that when it comes to the Home Office’s relationship with the research community honest researchers should be seen but not heard.
“The home secretary’s action is a bad day for science and a bad day for the cause of evidence-informed policy making.”
– Article from The Christian Institute.
Cannabis and ecstasy safer than cigarettes, says Nutt
The Government’s chief drug advisor has criticised ministers’ decision to reclassify cannabis back to class B.
Professor David Nutt, who is chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), also claimed that ecstasy, LSD and cannabis are less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes.
Prof Nutt made his comments in a lecture and briefing paper for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London.
His briefing accused former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith of “distorting and devaluing” scientific research when she made the decision to reclassify cannabis.
He played down the risks of psychotic illness associated with cannabis, arguing that it is safer than tobacco and alcohol.
After cannabis was downgraded to class C in 2004, judges, police, parents and mental health experts called for the move to be reversed because of the damage it caused.
The availability of skunk – the strongest form of cannabis – soared when the law was weakened. Cannabis-related admissions to mental hospitals have risen by 85 per cent since Labour came to power, according to Government figures.
There are now more than 22,000 people a year, almost half under the age of 18, being treated for cannabis addiction. In 1997 the number was 1,600.
Defending his attitude to cannabis on the BBC’s Today Programme, Prof Nutt said that in the last ten years “there has not been anything we have seen to suggest that it is more dangerous than class C drugs”.
In his lecture Prof Nutt said: “We have to accept young people like to experiment – with drugs and other potentially harmful activities – and what we should be doing in all of this is to protect them from harm at this stage of their lives.
“We therefore have to provide more accurate and credible information. If you think that scaring kids will stop them using, you are probably wrong.”
He also reiterated his claim that taking ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse.
When he made the claim earlier this year the Home Secretary accused him of “trivialising” the dangers of drugs and made him apologise to the families of people killed by ecstasy.
Prof Nutt’s paper included a ranking system comparing the relative harm of legal and illegal drugs.
His ranking placed alcohol fifth, behind drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
He placed tobacco ninth, with cannabis eleventh, LSD fourteenth and ecstasy eighteenth.
He said: “We need a full and open discussion of the evidence and a mature debate about what the drug laws are for — and whether they are doing their job.”
A spokesman for the ACMD said: “The lecture Prof Nutt gave at King’s College was in his academic capacity and was not in his role as chair of the ACMD.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “Prof Nutt’s views are his own”, adding: “The Government is clear: we are determined to crack down on all illegal substances and minimise their harm to health and society as a whole.”
James Brokenshire, the Conservative home affairs spokesman, said: “Rather than providing clearer evidence on the harms linked to illicit drugs, Professor Nutt is making an overtly political pitch and that isn’t helpful.”
– Article from The Christian Institute.
Nutt faces sack
from BBC News
he Home Secretary Alan Johnson is considering sacking his top expert drugs adviser following criticism of the government’s decision to reclassify cannabis.
Professor David Nutt, who chairs the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, yesterday accused ministers of devaluing and distorting evidence by their decision to move the drug back up to Class B from C last year (see my previous post, Scientists v Politicians: Round 3).
An e-mail sent to the BBC by an official in the Home Office this morning says that “yesterday’s coverage may have some serious repercussions for Prof Nutt and his position as chair of the ACMD”.
The note goes on to say “discussions are being had (at) a very high level regarding this issue and a decision will be taken early next week.”
Professor Nutt knew nothing about the moves to dismiss him when I spoke to him earlier today, but seemed resigned to the possibility. “They are bound to be considering that,” he told me, “thinking about the least worst option.”
“I think the issue is whether I am straying into the realm of policy,” he suggested. “I personally don’t think I was.”
A source in the Home Office tells me that “the writing is on the wall” for the scientist, although no decision has yet been made.
On last night’s Question Time, the former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was asked about Professor Nutt’s view that the process by which she increased the penalties for cannabis possession last year was “highly politicised”.
Dimbleby: “You don’t have much time for the head of the advisory council…”
Smith: “Frankly, no.”
Dimbleby: “Why not?”
Smith: “I think, actually, this foray into policy is not what his job is about. His job is to advise and my job as home secretary was to decide.”
If Alan Johnson does sack the professor, there is likely to be a strong reaction from some in the scientific community who may well argue that this is an attempt to silence independent academic discussion.
However, the online Sun columnist Jon Gaunt argues that the expert advisor has overstepped the mark:
“It’s perfectly acceptable for Nutt to have these discussions in the cosseted world of academia but it is totally irresponsible for him to pontificate in public and in his position as Drug Tsar. He must be sacked immediately.”
Also appearing on Question Time last night, Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik, accused Jacqui Smith of bowing to a tabloid agenda when it comes to drugs policy.
“What’s the point of paying people to give you expert advice if you then run your government policy through the red tops?”
Professor Nutt waits to hear his fate.
– Article from BBC News.