Ecstasy – a very political drug

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has recommended that ecstasy be downgraded to Class B. The Council’s chair, Professor David Nutt, likened the levels of harm caused by ecstasy to those caused by horse-riding. Apparently, horse-riding causes about 10 deaths per year and the use of ecstasy in isolation causes between 10 and 17.

So have the government accepted the evidence of their own advisory body this time, having recently rejected their advice by upgrading cannabis from C to B? What do you think? The Guardian has more:

The credibility of the official system of drugs classification suffered a fresh blow yesterday after the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, again vetoed a key recommendation from her own expert drug advisers, this time to downgrade the dance drug ecstasy from its class A status.

The Home Office junior minister Alan Campbell, explaining the rejection of the 12-month study by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which looked at more than 4,000 academic papers, said the government would not send a signal to young people that ecstasy was taken less seriously.

Professor David Nutt, the council’s chairman, said its role was not to send messages to the public but to provide the home secretary and prime minister with evidence of the relative harm of different drugs. “I suspect that they accepted our evidence but I think that they have made a political decision not to reclassify,” he said.

Evan Harris was on their case:

Dr Evan Harris, science spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, argued that Prof Nutt was engaging in “rational debate” when he compared the dangers of taking ecstasy and those of horse-riding.

Speaking to GMTV, Dr Harris said: “The problem with putting ecstasy in Class A… is that if thousands of young people take ‘e’ every weekend, and they see that it is in the same class as heroin and cocaine and crack cocaine, then it is hard to argue that those are particularly more dangerous than ecstasy.”

Last word to the Guardian:

The decision by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, to reject the report was backed by the Conservatives, who said it would have sent the wrong message, but the Liberal Democrats said her rejection of scientific advice was deplorable.

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  • I don’t often agree with Dr Evan Harris MP, but on this occasion he happens to be right.

  • David Raynes 12th Feb '09 - 5:45pm

    What Dr Harris has been saying in the corridoes of the HoC (not just quoted here) is wrong. Any even cursory examination of the history of Professor Nutt ( and I have been exhaustive in my research), his public statements, his relationships with drug legalisation camapigners, show beyong any sensible doubt that he is on a personal crusade against the UK system of drug control. His remarks about equasy are in my view part of his continuing agenda which is why I exposed them. If he wants to say anything about the system he should say it privately to the Home Office. Even if one agrees with Professor Nutt and Dr Harris may well do, it is plainly improper behaviour for the Chairman of the ACMD to prejudge, as Professor Nutt has, several times, the outcome of proper review of any drug by the body he heads or was designated to head when he made his various statements, (including his broadcast in New Zealand). If the Professor’s private views are so out of kilter with the system he is asked to advise on it is dishnourable to stay, he should resign and spend more time with his pharmaceutical companies. It is also worth noting, the vote on the ACMD about ecstasy classification was not unanimous (the Home Office refuses to publish the figures which Nutt to his great credit has not supported). The UK top expert (one of the most expert in the world) on ecstasy, Professor Parrott from Swansea University, almost completely disagrees with both the conclusions of the ACMD on MDMA harms and the way they carried out their study. So this issue is not as clear as Dr Harris pretends. The wider position of the Libdems on drugs also needs re examination. The Lib Dems behave as though the world is flat and only they understand drugs. They should reflect on the harm of the tobacco/alcohol model. They would do well to reconsider completely their policy, it is electorally damaging, it is out of kilter with the needs of parents. Remarks trivialising the harm from drugs and falsely pretending that legalisation/liberalisation is a sensible policy, would reduce total harm or would take criminality out of supply, undermines parents who need all the help they can get to get kids from 12 to 21 without them going off the rails through drugs, legal or illegal.

  • David Raynes… Wow, blast from the past! I remember you – you were the customs and excise drug-warrior who used to spam the newsgroup uk.politics.drugs back in the days of Usenet! I can see you’re still fighting the war…

  • Ecstasy being classified as a Class A drug undermines the whole drug classification system completely and the government ought to be ashamed of this craven decsion.

  • Also if David Nutt really was on a ‘personal crusade against the UK system of drug control’ why the hell would the Government appoint him to the ACMD? Also there are at least 19 other members of the ACMD and presumably a majority of these back the recommendation to reclassify Ecstacy not just Prof. Nutt

  • Sorry above comment was me again

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