February 9, 2009 / 9:28 PM / 10 years ago

UK drugs head apologizes over ecstasy danger quip

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - The head of Britain’s narcotics advisory board has apologized after saying the drug ecstasy was less dangerous than horse riding, the government said on Monday.

Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Jacqui Smith said David Nutt’s remarks in a scientific journal sent the wrong message to young people about the dangers of drugs.

“I’ve told him that I was surprised and in fact profoundly disappointed by the article reported,” she told legislators in the House of Commons.

“Professor Nutt apologized to me for his comments and I’ve asked him to, as well, apologize to the families of the victims of ecstasy.”

Nutt, Professor of Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, is the chair of the government’s Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The committee is due to report on Wednesday on a possible downgrade of ecstasy from the top of Britain’s three-category classification.

Nutt wrote in the Journal of Psychopharmacology that 10 people in Britain died a year from horse riding — or “equasy” as he called it — and that it was associated with more than 100 road traffic accidents annually.

“Based on these harms, it seems likely that the ACMD would recommend control (for equasy) under the Misuse of Drugs Act perhaps as a Class A drug given it appears more harmful than ecstasy,” he said.

Between 35 and 50 people die each year in England and Wales from ecstasy, currently ranked as one of the most dangerous Class A drugs, along with heroin and cocaine, according to government figures.

But Nutt said ecstasy was proportionately less dangerous, causing acute harm only in one in every 10,000 cases, compared to one in 350 cases for horse riding.

He said it was inconsistent to allow harmful sports while banning relatively less harmful drugs.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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