Another resignation at the UK’s Advisory Council on Drugs

14 05 2010

cannabis drug advisory council evidende disregardedOver the past 6 months the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)—an independent expert body that advises government on drug-related issues—has hardly been out of the headlines. One sacking and seven resignations is not a good track record for any organisation. The public’s discontent at the ACMD over how it operates and how it is unduly influenced by government has left a bitter taste, together with a crisis in confidence about evidence-based policy making in the UK.

The trouble at the ACMD began in October, 2009, after the controversial sacking of the then chairman, Professor David Nutt for criticising the government’s policy over cannabis and ecstasy. Five more members quit soon after in protest. In January, 2010, the equally distinguished neuroscientist, Professor Les Iverson, was appointed interim chair. In March, 2010, Dr Polly Taylor was the next to leave, outraged by the publication of the revised Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, the rewording of which compromised scientists’ independence and would dissuade them from giving objective advice lest they disagreed with government policy.

The current outcry at the ACMD is over the recreational drug mephedrone (4-methylmethcathinone), a synthetic stimulant most similar chemically to amphetamines. It is a derivative of cathinone, a compound found in the plant called khat. Clinical and pharmacological research on cathinones is sparse and knowledge about the human effects of this drug class have been reliant on anecdotal reports from users and physicians. Adverse reactions include tachycardia, hallucinations, vasoconstriction, increased anxiety, and possible psychosis. The substance has received substantial media attention in the UK after reportedly being linked to 25 deaths. Indeed, the ACMD has suggested that media coverage has increased the use of the drug.

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