This week there have been two developments surrounding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) and its ex-chair, Professor David Nutt, who in October last year was asked to resign by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, after he…erm…gave advice on the misuse of drugs.
As I summarized the issues leading to his sacking, I wondered how a new chair would be appointed. Lee blogged the announcement of Professor Les Iversen as Nutt’s successor (at least as interim chair). Iversen, a retired professor of pharmacology from Oxford University, has served on the Council since 2004 and was previously the chair of its technical committee.
As Goldacre tweeted as soon as the announcement was made, Iversen and Nutt
basically agree on stuff
The press were quick to jump on the fact that in 2003 Iversen held the view that cannabis should be legalised; however Iversen clearly stated in an interview on BBC Radio 5 (halfway down the page) that he has since revised his views in light of new evidence or the relationship between more potent forms of the drug and psychiatric illness.
Attempting to move on from the debate surrounding the legalisation of cannabis, Iversen was keen to (re-)emphasise the role of the advisory council
The government should have respect for the experts in the advisory committee, and the advisers should have respect for the government’s prerogative to govern.
Whilst the ACMD attempt to take up where they left off in reviewing so called legal highs, ex-Chair Professor David Nutt is not resting on his laurels.
With the financial backing of a hedge fund manager, Toby Jackson, Nutt has established the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs. Iversen welcomed the development of this new committee, and The Times suggests that the Committee is likely to be called upon to give evidence on drug harms to the ACMD – although Iversen did add
This is not the only group we will talk to on drugs.
One wonders how Johnson will respond to the collaboration between the ACMD and the ISCD. Certainly some members of the public still hold the view that Nutt is irresponsible – it is worth listening to him taking part in a phone-in (01:05:00 into the program, and only available until Friday 22 January) on BBC Radio 5 where he handles accusations with a weary patience.
Highlights from the press conference announcing the ISCD explain the remit of the new committee. In addition to considering drug harms, they plan to consider drug benefits (presumably in a medical context) and treatments. In common with the ACMD, Nutt plans to study the harms of so-called “legal highs” and also ketamine, the misuse of which Nutt is increasingly concerned about. The new committee will also develop
better and more appropriate, more flexible ways of determining drug harms, particularly in comparison to other harmful activities.
Perhaps this is an acknowledgment that a direct comparison between the harms associated with taking ecstacy and those associated with horse riding was not the most appropriate means of publicly disseminating concepts of relative risks and the perception thereof.
On Tuesday 26 January, Imperial College Union’s Political Philosophy Society will host Science & Society: Drugs, Politcs and Policy, an interview and Q&A session with Professor Nutt. At the session, lead by Dr Stephen Webster, Professor Nutt will discuss what he thinks are the roles and responsibilities of science to society, including public policy-making. All are welcome; for more information, contact the ICU PPS using the details on their website. I will attend and post a write-up when I return.
Any suggested questions for Prof Nutt?
Professor Nutt can be followed on Twitter.