Sun, Jan 17, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Sacked UK drugs adviser sets up own committee

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

David Nutt, the scientist sacked as a UK government adviser by the home secretary, on Friday defiantly launched his own independent committee, which he said would provide the definitive scientific verdict on the risks of drugs.

Nutt said his committee was willing to give advice to the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), from which he was sacked as chair.

He was dismissed from the post after criticizing politicians for distorting research evidence and claiming alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than some illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

The new committee — called the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) — includes a number of big names in the field and has the potential to embarrass the government, through its determination to make public the evidence on the relative risks and harms of drugs without regard to political sensitivities.

Nutt portrayed the ACMD as something of a lame duck scientifically, following the resignations of five of its members in sympathy with him — four of whom have joined the ISCD.

“It is a body made up of drug treatment people, police and magistrates,” he said.

But the council’s new interim chair, Les Iverson, who was appointed this week, had sent him “a very supportive email,” Nutt added, “saying he welcomed the committee and hopes we can work together.”

The committee will pursue a similar agenda to that which Nutt was sacked for supporting.

“We will undoubtedly pull together an assessment of the science, which is likely to challenge some of the aberrations in the current act,” he said.

“There’s a lot of evidence that MDMA [ecstasy] and related compounds are not class A [the most potentially dangerous drugs]. There’s the evidence we presented that cannabis should stay as class C — I think most people would support that. Possibly the psychedelics are inappropriately positioned in class A. And ketamine may be more dangerous than amphetamines — maybe it shouldn’t be class C,” he said.

The ISCD has 14 members and includes some very senior names in the field. With Nutt at the launch were Les King, who had a 30-year career in the forensic science service, and John Marsden of the Institute of Psychiatry, both of whom resigned from the ACMD, and professor Val Curran, a psychopharmacologist from University College London.

It has funding for the next three years from a hedge fund manager, Toby Jackson, who “wants to give something back,” Nutt said.

In the long term, ISCD hopes for more donations and even contracts from the government to carry out scientific research.

“It will save them money,” Nutt said.

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The committee has had its first meeting and decided on a plan of work. Apart from assessing the relative harms of well-known drugs, it will look at the risks of new psychoactive substances - or “legal highs” - which can be obtained through websites, and it will focus on ketamine - also known as K or Special K - which is popular with university students.

Nutt and Marsden said they felt more comfortable on their independent committee, where they can speak out freely, than on the ACMD. They had been advocating an independent scientific advisery body - which the Dutch have - since 2005, they said.

In a statement the Home Office left open the option for the ACMD to take scientific advice from Nutt’s committee.

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