A hedge fund manager is providing financial backing to a new independent drugs committee set up by the former chief drugs adviser dismissed by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary.
Toby Jackson has provided £450,000 to support the new committee, which was officially launched yesterday by Professor David Nutt. Professor Nutt said the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs (ISCD) would provide the “best science” available on the dangers of recreational drugs.
He is likely to be invited to give evidence on drug harm to the Government’s official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) from which he was dismissed last year, according to Professor Les Iversen, its interim chairman. Professor Iversen said: “I welcome the development of this new committee. I think it is healthy to have public debate about drug policy and drug harms.”
But Professor Iversen made clear that the advisory council was the only statutory body set up to advise the Government on drugs and the damage done by their misuse. He said Professor Nutt’s group might be asked to give evidence to the council. “This is not the only group we will talk to on drugs,” he added.
The ISCD is being given £150,000 a year for three years by Mr Jackson, who has a personal interest in the role scientific information plays in policy formation.
Professor Nutt said at the committee’s launch in Central London: “This is the strongest grouping of scientists looking at drugs that we’ve ever had in this country. It is a truly independent committee. The model is used in other countries — the Dutch have a similar system. It’s something many of us have wanted for a long time.
“What this committee will do is provide to you the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political influence. This is a really interesting model: bottom-up science, saying we’d like to work as a scientific community to produce quality, independent, politically free, uninfluenced science. I would hope other scientific advisory groups in the Government would end up being like us.”
Asked if he had felt pressured by politicians in the past, he said: “You can’t work in a body based in a government ministry without there being a degree of pressure. A lot of it is covert; some is overt. It wasn’t particularly oppressive but it was always there. It’s great to be completely independent.”
Professor Nutt said he hoped the new body could work in conjunction with the ACMD, focusing on science while the official advisory group took a broader view of social issues linked to drug misuse.
The ISCD has 14 members including its chairman. Professor Nutt said five more members of the ACMD had expressed an interest in joining it and two had already signed up. Members came from a broad range of backgrounds including neurology, toxicology, chemistry, forensic science and education.
Mr Johnson dismissed Professor Nutt over claims that alcohol and tobacco were more harmful than drugs, including LSD, Ecstasy and cannabis. Professor Nutt had previously clashed with Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary, after suggesting that horse riding was more dangerous than Ecstasy. His sacking caused a rift between the Government and scientific experts it relies on for advice.
Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat science spokesman, said: “While the ACMD lies wounded with seven vacancies and no permanent chair, scientists are attracted to a body that will have freedom to state the evidence on drugs harm as they see it without fear of being censured by ministers who don’t like what they hear.”
January 16, 2010
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Sacked government adviser David Nutt gets £450,000 to set up drugs committee