Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Ecstacy and Horses

According to Professor David Nutt of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), taking ecstacy is no more dangerous than riding a horse. He explained that 100 deaths a year are attributed to horse riding as opposed to around 30 deaths per year from ecstacy and: "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."

It's a very good question and one that I think it is society's and polticians duty to debate openly and honestly. Of course that is not going to happen. The Home Office have already made it clear that they disagree with him and that the expected advice from the ACMD to downgrade ecstacy will basically be ignored as were the last time they advised the government (see here).

I was listening to this report on the news on Radio 4 just now and I was struck by two things in particular:

1) David Nutt's position was explained. There was then a brief snapshot of David Raynes from the National Drug Prevention Alliance who predictably criticised the comments and effectively called for David Nutt's resignation. Then there was a quote from the Home Office along the lines of "ECSTACY KILLS!!??". There was no quote from any other organisation such as Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) or anyone else who believes that there should evidence based policy in this area as David Nutt is implying. So what we end up with is Professor Nutt looking like a dangerous maverick when actually he is advocating something that many people in this country agree with. I do not believe that the BBC deliberately do this sort of thing but the idea that drugs are evil is so embedded in the body politic of this country that it does not get treated like other issues.

2) The Home Office statement hinted that there may be a review of ACMD with relation to its advice to the government. Frankly I think this would be a good thing as they will soon have ignored it twice in a row. I think the ACMD was only ever there to give the impression that the government is listening to objective advice on this subject when it clearly is not, in the same way as they pretend through consultations such as the Heathrow shambles (see here). The sooner the government stops pretending it is basing its drugs policy on evidence, the sooner it can be exposed for the political posturing it really is indulging in.

There is also a good post on Jock's Place today which goes further than Professor Nutt and says that most of the 30 deaths due to ecstacy each year are actually caused by prohibition because of the lack of information available and the variation in quality of the drugs and quantity of MDMA present. I have a lot of sympathy with this view also.


Jock Coats said...

Iagree that the relationship with ACMD needs reviewed. If I were chair of such an august body, I *would* resign, in digust that every utterance of them and other government advisory bodies over the past few years has been ignored, rubbished or worse.

Who do we trust - the scientists who have no pro-drugs stance but are solely concerned about getting a system that works well and have no other vested interest, or Daily Mail pandering politicians?

Anonymous said...

In the Telegraph, it said 10 deaths a year due to horse riding and 100 accidents - not 100 deaths. But perhaps they misread it.

BTW, the NDPA is not just a fakecharity, but a fakecharity largely funded by a US fakecharity (click link).

Mark Thompson said...

Mark - I was going by the details of the BBC News story that I linked to. Specifically this bit:

"The professor said horse-riding accounted for more than 100 deaths a year..."

Anonymous said...

Anyone seen Melanie Philips delightful piece in the Mail today (mon 9th)?

Prof. Nutt is apparently not only wrong, but also somehow sinister because he is involved with the Berkeley foundation, who amongst other vile crimes, are daring to fund research into medical use of drugs.

Presumably all scientists that disagree with anyone need to step down from their official roles. I won't use the rude insults that Phllips made about Nutt, but I would like to.

Mark Thompson said...

Lig - Melanie Phillips has a long history of this sort of thing. I will read her column with my world weariness hat on.

In the meantime, Jacqui Smith, the country's most famous lodger has been ripping into David Nutt too. See here for my thoughts on this if you are interested.