Government's Chief Drug Adviser Is Sacked

By G_nome · Oct 30, 2009 · Updated Nov 1, 2009 · ·
  1. G_nome

    Government's Chief Drug Adviser Sacked

    The Government's chief drug adviser has been sacked after claiming ecstasy and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol.

    Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, had also attacked the decision to make cannabis a class B drug.

    It is understood Home Secretary Alan Johnson asked him to consider his position in the wake of the comments, saying he had "no confidence" in him.

    However, Prof Nutt told Sky News: "I think 'asked to resign' is a euphemism for being sacked."

    He said he was disappointed at the Government's move, blaming "unusual political times" and declaring it a "bad day for science".

    "Politics is politics and science is science and there's a bit of tension between them sometimes," he explained.

    Prof Nutt had sparked the controversy earlier this week by attacking what he called the "artificial" separation of alcohol and tobacco from other, illegal, drugs.

    He also repeated his claim that the risks of taking ecstasy are no worse than riding a horse.

    He has, however, made similar comments several times before.

    And he told Sky News that the Home Secretary reaction on this occasion had been politically motivated.

    He also stood by his views, accusing the Government of misleading the public over drugs.

    "As a parent ... my children are much more likely to die or be seriously injured from alcohol than any of those other drugs," he told Sky.

    The greatest concern for parents, he continued, should be ensuring that their children do not "completely off their heads" with alcohol.

    "My view is that if you want to reduce the harm to society from drugs, alcohol is the drug to target at present," he concluded.

    Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "This was an inevitable decision after his latest ill-judged contribution to the debate but it is a sign of lack of focus at the Home Office that it didn't act sooner given that he has done this before."

    However, Prof Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, expressed concerns with the decision.

    "The Government cannot expect the experts who serve on its independent committees not to voice their concern if the advice they give is rejected even before it is published," he said.

    "I worry that the dismissal of Prof Nutt will discourage academic and clinical experts from offering their knowledge and time to help the Government in the future."

    From Sky News
    10:11pm UK, Friday October 30, 2009

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  1. G_nome
    Very disappointing.
    Though i had a funny feeling that this was soon to happen.
    The one guy that talks sense and they get rid of him, bloody typical.
  2. G_nome
    Drug tsar who claimed Ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol is sacked
    The Government’s drug tsar who claimed that Ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol, has been sacked, Home Office sources said.

    Professor David Nutt had called for a new ‘index of harm’ to warn the public about the relative dangers of various substances.

    He said alcohol should rank fifth, behind only cocaine, heroin, barbiturates and methadone, while tobacco should rank ninth, ahead of cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy.

    He said: 'I think 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’re probably wrong.'

    In a wide-ranging article for the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, the scientist - who resisted the reclassification of cannabis from C to B - accused - claimed that smoking the drug created only a 'relatively small risk' of psychotic illness.

    Professor Nutt has also courted controversy in the past - by suggesting taking Ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.

    By James Slack
    Daily Mail
    30th October 2009
  3. anonuser30500
    Well, this is the U.K. and anyone who says a word of sense is generally slated for it.

    The professor is in tune with public opinion, the government don't really care what the public think as they have already been told what to vote and we are following the USA war on drugs set up.
  4. Synchronium
    Wow. Unbefuckinglievable!

    What a backwards society we live in. I hope the rest of the ACMD resign in protest. How can they not feel completely taken the piss out of?
  5. Doublefields
    I was just coming on to post this. With the things he's said recently i (foolishly) thought maybe we'd finally start getting somewhere with re-assesing the drug classifications. But it turns out instead they'll just ignore what he says and fire him instead.
    This is an absolute joke, it's hard to say how angry and dissapointed i am now.

    Edit:Wow i just went on the article on the daily mail website and have you seen the comments on there? If daily mail readers are opposing this decision maybe there is some hope.
  6. bananaskin
    I was also on my way to post this.
    This is terrible news.
    One of the few voices of reason in these 'drug war' political football games has lost his job.
    He is right, and fair in correct proportion IMHO.

    This government make me ashamed, they really do.
    The more I learn, the more sad I become.

    It is really no surprise, however, that a government struggling to survive would get rid of a high-profile advisor who openly disagrees with elements of policy
  7. Doublefields
    Just something i wanted to add for anyone in the UK whose vote at the next election may be swayed by this, The tories have already come out and agreed with his sacking.
    Interestingly the LD's have said that his departure is a 'disgrace'.

    I do not side with any of the 3 parties but just thought i should add that.
  8. G_nome
    It seems, in this case, that the government is just pandering to the tabloid media.
    I'm still pretty pissed off about this. It actually seemed for a while that things were gonna change, or at least maybe we'd see some mature discussions in parliament and the like about current drug policies.
    Fat chance of that now eh.
    And we've got a Tory governement to look forward to in the new year, fan-bloody-tastic!
    I really can't stand this country at times, and it looks like it's just gonna get worse, unless a miracle happens and that band of old Etonians don't get in.
    Can't see it myself.
  9. chinpokomaster
    This is the saddest bit of news I've heard in a long, long time.
  10. corvardus
    Pathetic. The scientific community will not forget this.

    Luckily, however, Alan Johnson is within the power of the public. I have confidence he will be losing his job at the next election.

    There is no way in hell I will be voting Labour after this.
  11. Joel2k11
    Really, when I saw this, I said to myself just what the hell is going on...

    Someone finally starts to talk sense on drug policy and he is sacked within a day. It really shows what kind of incompotent idiots are running the show. . .
  12. G_nome
    I wish there was something I/we could do, i'm really disgusted by this sacking, it's fucking scandalous!
    Anyone got any ideas?
    I was thinking of writing to my MP about it, but what's the bloody point eh?
    Last time i wrote to him about drug policy reform i just got back a load of waffle from him.
  13. corvardus
    I believe Prof. Nutt was expecting this. Although perhaps after a few months after the fire died down and quietly. However Johnson did it whilst the iron was hot and there is absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind why he was removed.
  14. 10outof10
    His name didn't really help the cause did it.. Nutt eh? Loved the horse riding analogy..genius :)
  15. 10outof10
    Oh and we could all go to the Advisory council open meeting 10th nov and give them some perspective, google ACMD for the registration form...
  16. g666d
    agree with comments above, this is the first i've heard of this man (not from uk...) and it sounds like he was a reasonably brave and level headed individual. this is sad news, but he has potentially spearheaded avenue for debate, and the effects of his words will hopefully have resonant consequences.
  17. Bajeda
    Professor David Nutt has been sacked as the government's top drugs adviser after a rollercoaster of a relationship with two home secretaries over the last 12 months.

    It was his job to provide hard scientific facts to the government on the harm of drugs. But he has left the unpaid post under a cloud after ministers concluded the psychiatrist and pharmacologist's analysis went beyond scientific facts and into the realms of attempting to change policy.

    Based on the University at Bristol, the professor is one of the country's leading experts on the effect of drugs.

    He is also deeply involved in community medicine programmes in NHS trusts in south-west England and the head of department of Neuro-psychopharmacology and Molecular Imaging at Imperial College London.

    Decade with drugs body

    Prof Nutt first became involved in official drugs policy at the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) a decade ago.

    The ACMD is a statutory body which was established by Parliament after the important 1971 Act which fundamentally changed the landscape of probation in the UK.

    The act brought in the concept of classifying illegal drugs into three categories, Class A being the most harmful.

    He was named chair designate in May 2008 and took over the post in November. He was due to stay in the post until 2011.

    His duties include making scientific recommendations to ministers on how to classify banned drugs, based on the harm they can cause.

    And it is Prof Nutt's analysis of the harms posed by cannabis, other risks in society, and his frustration with ministers' positions, which have caused his downfall.

    Equasy controversy

    Two controversies in particular led to his sacking by the Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

    In January 2009, Prof Nutt wrote an article in a scientific journal, debating how society assesses various risks.

    The paper was headlined "Equasy, an over-looked addiction with implications for the current debate on drug harms".

    He said the point of the article was to explain that the harm from illegal drugs could be equal to harm in other parts of life, such as horse-riding, hence the invented term equasy or "equine addiction syndrome".

    Prof Nutt argued that "equasy" could be blame for 10 deaths a year and more than 100 traffic accidents.

    Asked to clarify what he meant, he told the Daily Telegraph that there was "not much difference" between the harm caused by riding and ecstasy. Society, he argued, did not always "adequately balance" all of the risks inherent in it.

    "Making riding illegal would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do.

    "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."

    Perhaps predictably, the article sparked fury from anti-drugs campaigners who accused him of going on a personal crusade to downgrade the drug from Class A to B.

    Demand for apology

    The then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith ordered Prof Nutt to apologise, accusing him of trivialising the dangers of the drug. She said he had gone beyond his role as the chairman of the ACMD, although he argued that he was writing in his professional capacity and trying to add to important debates.

    Weeks later, the ACMD recommended the downgrading - but ministers had already made clear that wasn't going to happen.

    Professor Nutt stuck to his guns and in the summer gave a lecture on the relative risks of various drugs which, in turn, became a paper published by one of the UK's leading university departments of criminology.

    In the paper, he reproduced a chart of drugs and other substances, based on their risk to health. The chart stated that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than many illegal drugs, including LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

    But he then went beyond that and criticised the moral tone of policy decisions.

    Prof Nutt argued that Jacqui Smith's "precautionary principle" of erring on the side of caution, particularly by reversing a decision to downgrade the classification of cannabis, could do more harm than good.

    Moving a drug up the classification scale could give it greater cachet and increase the likelihood of people seeking it out, he said.

    "I think the precautionary principle misleads," he wrote. "It starts to distort the value of evidence and therefore I think it could, and probably does, devalue evidence.

    "This leads us to a position where people really don't know what the evidence is. They see the classification, they hear about evidence and they get mixed messages."

    That was the final straw for Ms Smith's successor. Mr Johnson said that Prof Nutt had gone beyond his remit and, by lobbying for a change in government policy, had undermined the government's attempts to provide clear messages on drugs.

    Prof Nutt has not left the post quietly. His parting shot accused ministers of undermining scientists and their work in providing evidence to inform policy.

    His supporters will say that the government has sacked a top scientific adviser doing his job and using science.

    But his critics will say that he should have thought a little bit more about the realities of drugs policy and society.

    By Dominic Casciani
    BBC News, Home Affairs
  18. chillinwill
    g_nome, thanks for posting this.

    Please note that the way we post news has changed, because of our main news page. You can find the full instructions here.

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  19. Doublefields
    Fully agreed. I read that someone has set-up a petition on the downing street website but i cant find it as the search function isnt working.
    Whilst i know there is no chance of him getting his job back through a petition, if enough people sign it at least sends a message.

    Out of all the comments i've seen on online articles, (BBC blog, daily mail etc..) the huge majority of the comments have been about how ridiculous this decision is. So the support is there, i really think we need to come up with something we can do.

    And as someone said earlier we're almost guaranteed a Tory government. Reminds me of the futurama episode with 'John Jackson and Jack Johnson'.
  20. Synchronium
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