Drugs are baad mkay

“In war, truth is the first casualty” – Aeschylus
An interesting piece from the Reuters news agency:
(Reuters) – The presidents of Mexico, Colombia and Guatemala all called for a vigorous global debate of anti-narcotics laws at the United Nations on Wednesday, raising new questions about the wisdom of the four-decade-old, U.S.-led “war on drugs.”
Although none of the leaders explicitly called for narcotics to be legalized, they suggested at the U.N. General Assembly that they would welcome wholesale changes to policies that have shown scant evidence of limiting drug flows while contributing to massive violence throughout Latin America.
“It is our duty to determine – on an objective scientific basis – if we are doing the best we can or if there are better options to combat this scourge,” Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said.
[My emphasis]
The article in full is here.

Meanwhile UK national broadcaster Channel 4 last week presented two live shows about Ecstacy, with the help of volunteers who are sampling the drug and reporting their (on the whole positive) experiences. The programme is being made with the help of Professor David Nutt.

For those who have not heard of him David Nutt is a scientist who was sacked from his role on the UK Government’s ‘Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs’ by the politician Alan Johnson. Professor Nutt, after looking at the evidence, had decided in his scientific opinion that the UK had overestimated the harm done by a number of prohibited recreational drugs. His research was published in the highly respected scientific journal The Lancet in 2007 and it begins with the following:
Drug misuse and abuse are major health problems. Harmful drugs are regulated according to classification systems that purport to relate to the harms and risks of each drug. However, the methodology and processes underlying classification systems are generally neither specified nor transparent, which reduces confidence in their accuracy and undermines health education messages.

[The Lancet my emphasis]
Professor Nutt’s scientific approach is impressive but unfortunately the issue of transparency was pushed to one side by the personal opinions of career politician and staunch union man Alan Johnson, who incidentally left school at the age of 15 to stack shelves in a supermarket.

Johnson sacked Nutt and declared in a letter to The Guardian:
“Professor Nutt was not sacked for his views, which I respect but disagree with [...] He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy.”
It’s an interesting position. Johnson made a point of taking full responsibility for the decision to sack the Professor in an angry and confused interview on Sky News at the time. The issue of transparency and honesty was central to the national debate provoked. The controversy split the Government’s advisory panel with a number of other members resigning from their positions as a result.

It’s tempting to think the time for honesty on this issue might be upon us. The first installment of Channel 4's broadcast attracted just over two million viewers. It had an amusingly named scientist on to unquestioningly repeat the Government’s official position. Step forward Professor Parrott(!) of Swansea University.

Did you watch the shows on Channel 4? Please post your review in the comments section…

This article first appeared on the Disinfo website, it has been slightly re-written to account for the passage of time.

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