Brilliant article from BBC editor on the recent UK ecstasy controversy

By Synesthesiac · Feb 11, 2009 · ·
  1. Synesthesiac
    Equivalence in death

    Having read the latest instalment of the "ecstasy classification" row, I wonder whether anyone is tempted to "lash out at the home secretary" for "trivialising" the dangers of riding horses and showing "insensitivity to the families of victims" of horse-riding accidents.

    I ask after Jacqui Smith publicly rebuked the head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for suggesting that the risks from horse riding were significantly greater than the risks from taking ecstasy. The Press Association describes how the home secretary "lashed out at the government's top drug adviser for suggesting taking ecstasy was no worse than riding a horse".

    "For me, that makes light of a serious problem, trivialises the dangers of drugs, shows insensitivity to the families of victims of ecstasy and sends the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs," the home secretary told the Commons.

    So what of the loved ones of the 10 people who die in horse-riding accidents each year in Britain and the many more who must live with the permanent neurological and physical damage from such incidents? Ms Smith told MPs that "there is absolutely no equivalence" between those who are killed or injured in "the legal activity of horse riding and the illegal activity of drug taking".

    Some might argue, however, that the "equivalence" is very great between the parent of a young person who dies taking drugs or dies falling from a horse. The sense of loss and the grief may well be remarkably similar. If there is a significant difference, it is that people are much more likely to be harmed from riding a horse than taking ecstasy. It might be handy for people to know that.

    And that was Professor David Nutt's point; once again, we are witness to the spectacle of a scientific point being obscured by a political one.
    As head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor Nutt's job is to assess the harms and risks associated with illicit drugs. He has developed a nine-point "harm matrix" to bring the best science to the process.

    However, there is obvious frustration that having asked him and his committee to use their scientific expertise to make rational judgements about the relative risks and harms associated with different illicit drugs, politicians then ignore their advice.

    It is probable that, on Wednesday, the ACMD will advise ministers that ecstasy be downgraded from Class A to Class B, and that ministers will take no notice.

    In his provocative article, Professor Nutt complains that "the drug debate takes place without reference to other causes of harm in society, which tends to give drugs a different, more worrying status".

    So he invents an addiction called "equasy" to make his point. He reveals how the harmful consequences are well established - "about 10 people a year die of it and many more suffer neurological damage". He adds that "it is also associated with over 100 road traffic accidents per year - often with deaths".

    Equasy, he then reveals, is Equine Addiction Syndrome, "a condition characterised by gaining pleasure from horses and being prepared to countenance the consequences, especially the harms from falling off / under the horse".

    Using the same nine-point scale that his committee employs for drugs, he compares 'Equasy" and "Ecstasy". In terms of "acute harm", riding a horse is proportionately 28 times more dangerous than taking ecstasy.

    [imgr="white"][/imgr] Now, this is clearly an absurd comparison, but Professor Nutt is employing satire. "Making riding illegal would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do", he writes. He acknowledges that there would be "little public or government support for such an option".

    "This attitude", he continues, "raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug abuse."

    "Is there a lesson from these relative comparisons of harms and risk that regulatory authorities could use to make better drug harm assessments and thus better laws?", he asks. "The use of rational evidence for the assessment of the harms of drugs will be one step forward to the development of a credible drugs strategy."

    There will be a few people, perhaps, reading this post who will have been directly affected by the damage that ecstasy can do. There are, however, likely to be many more directly affected by the harm from pain killers.

    A study in Scotland in 2001 titled "Distorted? A quantitative exploration of drug fatality reports in the popular press" reviewed 10 years of media reporting of drug deaths.

    It found that the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol (unclassified) was one in 250 deaths. For diazepam (Class C), it was one in 50. For amphetamine (Class B), it was one in three.
    For ecstasy (Class A), every associated death was reported. And I very rarely read reports in the national press about those deaths from horse-riding accidents.


    • Mark Easton
    • 10 Feb 09, 08:55 AM GMT

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  1. entheogensmurf
    I'm just a wanker from the USA, but I'm sending off my comments to Jacqui Smith or whomever receives such things at Home Office.

    A huge letter writing campaign from locals over there would be nifty. To show there is support from the citizens AND that they had no problems understanding the comparison as satire.

    There was a chap in a comments section of an online UK paper that actually said:
    Lets see him take an Ecstasy pill everyday for 6 months and then let him talk (or something like that).


    It seems odd that we even have scientific advisers.
    That is, unless politics control their words or they toss away the science part and make assertions such as "Cannabis is one of the most dangerous drugs out there today." I forget who said that.

    Then it makes sense.
  2. frederico02
    i totally agree with you Synesthesiac . now that the facts are sinking into the media , more people might catch on to that E isnt as dangerous as some so called goverment officials say it is . its almost an offense to lie and ignore scientific evidence in my opinion . the reason why we employ these high paid and respected seinor advisors on drugs is so that the goverment can make decisions on wether it should be legal or not , not so that they can be ignored . fkin piss take! im not sayin E is totally safe because evidently its not and everyone has to agree to that but if made legal , it can be made safer , car accidents that were claimed to be caused by people under extacy's influence can be reduced like alchol is reduced with fines , spot checks etc
  3. Joe Rogan
    First of all there is a big difference between the two given examples in this article; one Ecstasy and the secound, of course, is hourseback riding. Who ever thought of putting the two of them together could be commended in some aspects but put down in others. For instance there is no where in this article about the people we are talking about, the catagories of occasional, periodic, and daily users.

    Also, there has been in my mind a difference between the people the government talks about and the others(swimmers). I always feel that when the government or any other organization sends out something like this, even if it is to benefit the drug community, that they do it very stereotypically. In other words I think of the "Drug Community" in multiple different levels, doers, thinkers, makers, etc. because there are people who do not know exactly what they are doing, people who do, and knowledgable people.

    That gives the background of what I feel about the subject of who they use for these tests. Do they just use the 'doers' who take x 1 a day or are they putting in the people who are the 'thinkers', who know how seretonin works and the side effects of it. Also the article about the "harm matrix" brings up the point about misuse and how the class system is made up. I feel that this also brings up questions about this article.
  4. Bajeda
    Good article, but regarding the chart provided; I don't think the euphoria one could obtain from horseback riding can be compared to the euphoric effects of MDMA. Anyone will get a rush from doing what they love, with adrenaline adding to the mix in the case of more active and / or risky activities, but it probably won't be equivalent in strength to the effects MDMA induces.
  5. NDove
    Yes, I saw that quote. It was in response to a Melanie Phillips article in our beloved Daily Mail. I'm new and can't post links, but if you google 'Melanie Phillips: Drugs no worse than horseriding?' you will get the article. (I hope that doesn't breach any etiquette about getting around posting links?)

    What is amusing here is that UK residents will know and, no doubt, love the Daily Mail and the informed sensible reportage it provides on a varied range of issues. But look at how many of the commentators disagree with Melanie and her spurious arguments - a rebellion on the Daily Mail website, something I never thought I'd see!
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