Sunday, 22 February 2009

UK Gov: How Dare You Tell the Truth about Ecstasy ... Apologise Now!

According to the British Government, telling the truth might not be the right thing to do. Last month, Professor David Nutt, chairman of the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) wrote in a medical journal that “Taking the drug ecstasy is no more dangerous than riding a horse”. Although it’s a fact it still caused outrage throughout the UK including from the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith.

She [Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith] demanded an apology and told the professor that his comments went beyond the scientific advice she expected from him. "I've spoken to him. I've told him that I was surprised and profoundly disappointed," Smith told MPs yesterday. She said they made light of a serious problem, trivialised the dangers of drugs, showed insensitivity to the families of victims, and sent the wrong message to young people.

Smith's attack on Nutt, the new chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, comes when this week it will publish a report expected to recommend downgrading ecstasy from class A to class B. Smith has made clear she will veto the council's view as she rejected its advice last year not to reclassify cannabis.

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris complained to the Speaker at Smith's attack, describing Nutt as a "distinguished scientist" unable to answer back in parliament for what was set out in a scientific publication. His article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was written before he became chairman, but picked up in the weekend press.
-The Guardian - Drugs adviser says sorry over ecstasy article

This reaction from UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith is disgraceful on several fronts. First of all, the statement was part of an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology last month and was only recently reported in the news. Secondly, since when does a government official publicly criticise a professor for the contents of a scientific paper? More importantly, why was professor Nutt demanded to make an apology for telling the truth?

Professor Nutt did offer an apology but didn’t backtrack on his statement. He apologised saying he had 
"no intention of trivialising the dangers of ecstasy" and "I am sorry to those who may have been offended by my article. I would like to apologise to those who have lost friends and family due to ecstasy use". Some media reports jokingly questioned why Professor Nutt was not also made to apologised to those who had lost friends and family from horse riding.

According to Nutt, a Scottish study suggests that one reason for ecstasy's "peculiarly prominent place" within the media dates back to the 1990s, when every single ecstasy-related death was covered in detailed by the Scottish press while far fewer other drug-related deaths were reported.

The mental health effects are said to be relatively few in both the short and long term, with few people becoming dependent. The ACMD also concludes that those who take ecstasy are not commonly seen to become violent or engage in behaviour that leads to public order offences.
-The Guardian - Government criticised over refusal to downgrade ecstasy

To make matters worse, Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith declared she would veto the council’s recommendation of downgrading ecstasy from class A to class B even before the findings were officially released. This bizarre behaviour has raised many concerns about why the government has spent millions of dollars on a report they are going to dismiss if it doesn’t fit in with their particular ideology or current policies. For Jacqui Smith to declare that she was going to veto the report regardless of the evidence or the facts before she even reads it is shameful. Is this how the government was intended to be run?

The prime minister's strategy unit reported last year that current drug policy was failing - so the government sought to suppress the report. The independent RSA Commission, after two years painstakingly investigating drug policy, recommended more emphasis on harm reduction - and was ignored.
The Guardian - We need a sensible debate about drugs - but that's impossible while ministers float above it all

This is the second ACMD report commissioned by the UK government that has been tossed aside and rejected. The first report recommended that cannabis stay downgraded as a class C drug but that was rejected by the government after being implemented in 2004. With many fearing that cannabis use would explode when it was first downgraded, the level of use actually dropped whilst it was a class C drug. There was no reason what-so-ever for a reclassification back up to class B. In fact it should have been reason enough to accept more AMCD recommendations especially the down grading of ecstasy. With ecstasy use rising under the current A classification, what did they have to lose? The answer is irrelevant as we have seen evidence and facts have no bearing on government policy decisions. It’s the usual case of “sending the wrong message” being more important than people’s lives.

We don't need to see things with our own eyes to believe them; we're not Neanderthals. But we do need to be assured that advice is evidence-based, that the authorities haven't just ignored the evidence and gone ahead anyway. I contend that the negative consequences of this mummy-knows-best approach have already gone beyond the world of class C drugs. I bet this is why so many young people have stopped using condoms and are getting syphilis.
-The Guardian - Mum doesn't know best

What will happen to drug use levels as a result of the governments refusal to reclassify ecstasy? Remember that this recommendation is only to lower the classification of ecstasy not to legalise it. There would still be harsh penalties of up to 5 years jail for possession. By doing nothing, it seems logical that ecstasy use will continue on it’s merry way.

The Runciman Report of 2000, for example, suggested that ecstasy may be several thousand times less dangerous than heroin – despite both being class A drugs – with ecstasy users exhibiting little or no evidence of the withdrawal symptoms usually associated with physical dependency. The home affairs select committee's 2002 report The government's drug policy – is it working? estimated that fewer than 10 people died a year from taking ecstasy, 3% of the number of deaths attributed to heroin. Both reports recommended the downgrading of ecstasy from class A to class B, and both were rejected on the grounds that reclassification would be irresponsible.
-The Guardian - Severe side effects of drug policy

The UK continue with the dubious record of having the highest rate of illicit drug use in Europe along with some of the harshest penalties and toughest policing. It’s obvious their “tough on drugs” approach isn’t working but the UK government refuses to listen to alternative strategies recommended by experts. Government arrogance is nothing new but repeating the same old policies over and over expecting a different result is just stupidity. More importantly, it costs lives and creates massive suffering which appears to be overlooked by the media and the government themselves.

Related Links:
Top Drug Advisor - Ecstasy is Safe as Riding a Horse
Drugs adviser says sorry over ecstasy article
Government criticised over refusal to downgrade ecstasy
Severe side effects of drug policy
We need a sensible debate about drugs - but that's impossible while ministers float above it all
Home secretary rejects advice to downgrade ecstasy

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