Drugs professor could set up independent panel

By Emmeline Saunders

Professor David Nutt, the scientist at the centre of the drugs advice storm, has called for an independent advisory body on drugs to be run along the lines of the Bank of England.
 
Scientists who advise politicians on the dangers of drugs should be as independent as the officials at the Bank of England who decide interest rates, he declared.
 
The professor, who was dismissed last week by home secretary Alan Johnson, said he was considering an anonymous supporter’s offer to fund an alternative advisory group that could operate without government interference.
 
He said politicians should be clear about taking a moral stance on drug use, rather than veiling their message in “pseudo-science”, and government policies that ignore the realities of the world “are doomed to fail”.
 
“The message for the British government is a simple one: don’t exclude rational argument in order to exploit a visceral public response. Politicians have to win the hearts and minds of their electorate,” he said.
 
“If your policy is informed by an underlying moral imperative, be open about what that is, and don’t try to disguise it with a veneer of pseudo-science.
 
“We ignore scientific evidence at our peril.”
 
Professor Nutt was sacked from his job as chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) over his controversial comments about recreational drugs, and has warned many of his former colleagues could resign en masse when they meet Mr Johnson for crisis talks next week.
 
A letter to the home secretary signed by members of the panel said they had “serious concerns” about the scientist’s dismissal.
 
Speaking today, Professor Nutt stood by his comments and said the “fatally flawed” ACMD should be rebuilt from scratch.
 
“I think it should be re-formed with a new structure with a much clearer demarcation of the reporting lines. I don’t think it should report to a single minister, but to parliament or a panel of ministers,” he added.
 
The professor came under fire last year for his suggestion that LSD and ecstasy should be downgraded from a Class A categorisation.