Drugs adviser criticised by Smith [BBC]

By Synesthesiac · Feb 11, 2009 · Updated Feb 11, 2009 · ·
  1. Synesthesiac
    Drugs adviser criticised by Smith

    The home secretary has told MPs she was "surprised" and "disappointed" by a drugs adviser likening the dangers of ecstasy to the dangers of horse riding.

    [imgl="white"]http://www.drugs-forum.com/photopost/uploads/45583/downgrade.jpg[/imgl]Jacqui Smith said Prof David Nutt had "trivialised" the dangers of the drug. She said she had told him he had gone beyond his role as head of the Advisory Council on Drugs Misuse.

    Ms Smith said Prof Nutt had apologised, but he later defended his comparison, saying it had been "useful" in showing the risks associated with taking drugs.

    'Not much difference'

    The council, which advises the government, is expected later this week to recommend that ecstasy be downgraded from a class A drug to a class B one.

    Ministers have outlined their opposition to any such move.

    start_quote_rb.gif I'm sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking end_quote_rb.gif
    -Jacqui Smith, home secretary

    Professor Nutt's article, published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last week, said: "Drug harm can be equal to harms in other parts of life. There is not much difference between horse-riding and ecstasy."

    He said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year, and went on: "This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates - indeed encourages - certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others such as drug use."

    Ecstasy use is linked to around 30 deaths a year, up from 10 a year in the early 1990s.

    Fatalities are caused by massive organ failure from overheating or the effects of drinking too much water.

    Speaking during Home Office questions in the House of Commons, Ms Smith said: "I've spoken to him this morning about his comments. I've told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed by the article reported."

    She added: "I'm sure most people would simply not accept the link that he makes up in his article between horse riding and illegal drug taking.

    "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."

    'Wrecks lives'

    Ms Smith also said: "I made clear to Professor Nutt that I felt his comments went beyond the scientific advice that I expect of him as the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

    "He apologised to me for his comments and I've asked him to apologise to the families of the victims of ecstasy."

    However, Prof Nutt later said: "I was doing a statistical comparison. There is a view - and the home secretary takes this view - that you cannot make a comparison and it is misleading because some things are legal and other things are illegal."

    He added: "I think there are a significant number of people who agree with me as well that these kinds of comparisons are useful."

    The comparison was useful "so people who take drugs can understand what the risks were", he said.

    Prof Nutt added: "I certainly didn't intend to cause offence to the victims of ecstasy or their families. One death is one too many."
    Conservative MP Laurence Robertson said ecstasy "not only wrecks lives, and ends lives, but also fuels crime".

    He argued that drug use and horse riding were "completely incomparable" and that Prof Nutt was in the "wrong job".

    But, in questions to the House of Commons Speaker, Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris said Prof Nutt was a "distinguished scientist" and asked whether it was "right to criticise him here when he cannot answer back for what is set out in a scientific publication".

    He added: "What's the future for scientific independence if she [Ms Smith] asks that scientists apologise for their views?"

    Speaker Michael Martin replied that it was a "parliamentary privilege" for the home secretary to make such remarks and that "of course" she would be allowed to do so.

    The Advisory Council on Drugs Misuse has distanced itself from the comments in Prof Nutt's article.

    Source: BBC, Feb 09, 2009: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7879378.stm

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  1. sgurrman
    I see nothing amiss with Nutt's comparison of the dangers of ecstasy and horse riding. There is a fascinating area of human psychology here, about the PERCEIVED dangers of different activities, and how the perceptions do not match the realities. In the Home Secretary's case, the main difference is that horse riding is something that respectable middle-class girls do, and is therefore acceptable, while taking ecstasy is what horrible, well, druggies, do.

    An even more graphic comparison would be with mountaineering, an activity I am personally familiar with, and which I suspect to be statistically far more dangerous than taking ecstasy or LSD. Mont Blanc has killed over 1000 people; Everest over 170 (figures from 'Mountains of the Mind' by Robert Macfarlane). In the case of substances such as ecstasy and LSD, 'drug-taking' is more risky as a result of its illegality, and its marginality. Interestingly, you don't hear of folk dropping dead at Native American peyote ceremonies, or ayahuasca rituals in the Amazon, where the ingestion of the substances is integrated into society, and is properly understood.

    I wish I could say otherwise, but I can have only contempt for our British politicians in this respect. I had the 'misfortune' to accidentally tune into a television programme called 'Question Time' last night, where politicians and others offer predictable answers to predictable questions. The question of Jaqui Smith not following Nutt's advice was given a couple of minutes. Interestingly, one or two of the less powerful folk on the panel had more open views on the topic, but the 'tough on drugs' stance was aired puppet-fashion by both Labour and Tory people (this is one topic on which the two main parties seem in agreement). The levels of ignorance demonstrated by both were sad to see. When folk start saying things like 'Drugs are a big problem among my constituents, so I support the current classification of ecstasy' you know they don't know what they are talking about. It's a giveaway when someone talks about 'drugs' as if they constitute a homogeneous mass, and heroin and LSD are all the same really. Shameful.

    It's time for a revolution, really..........
  2. BumpBump
    she should have the sack! She should not be allowed to come out with crap like that.
  3. sgurrman
    The difference between scientists and politicians is that the bigoted prejudices of scientists are constrained by their data, while the bigoted prejudices of politicians know no such constraints.:vibes:
  4. Milk man
    Translation: We don't like the facts and if we refuse to believe them, then they are not true.
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