Meanwhile…regressive drug policies still hold sway in the UK (as well as USA)

The following article on drug policy in the UK appeared in The Guardian:

British government science advisor sacked for speaking truth about drugs and dangers.

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…

..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.

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 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.

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.”

It’s important to recognize that the rankings of harmfulness are based on the ill-health effects on the individual of the various drugs. If one calculates the cost to society, where you are considering the number of people who are taking these drugs you end up with a different ranking. In the United State (and perhaps other countries) in terms of public health harm to society, tobacco and alcohol far out-rank every other drug, legal or illegal, as has been well-known for decades.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/oct/30/drugs-adviser-david-nutt-sacked?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487

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