January 15, 2010 / 5:12 PM / 9 years ago

Sacked UK drugs adviser sets up independent group

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain’s former chief drugs adviser, sacked for his outspoken views last year, launched an independent drugs advisory body on Friday he said would seek to tell the “truth about drugs” free of political interference.

Home Secretary (interior minister) Alan Johnson removed Professor David Nutt in October after he argued that ecstasy, cannabis and LSD were less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

The government said Nutt, head of the influential Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) at the time, had overstepped his role and undermined its message on the dangers of recreational drug use.

His sacking caused outrage across the scientific community and caused a string of resignations from the council.

Nutt said the new body, the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs already had 14 members, including himself, drawn from a broad church of academics.

“What this committee will do is provide you with the truth about drugs, unfettered by any political considerations,” he told reporters at the Science Media Center in London.

“This is the strongest grouping of scientists (on drugs)...that we have ever had in this country. It is the first truly independent committee, and as we’ve already seen, we are extraordinarily impressive and we will grow and become even stronger.”

He said four out five experts who resigned from the ACMD in protest at his dismissal were members of the new body. He said they had joined because they were horrified by the treatment of the scientific community.

Nutt said he expected the body to add between 5 and 10 more experts in the next six months or so.

Funding, to the tune of 150,000 pounds ($245,100) a year will come from a hedge fund manager with a scientific interest, who wanted to give something back to society, Nutt said.

The grouping, with expertise in neurology, toxicology, forensic science and education, would work in parallel with the government appointed ACMD, and not compete with it, he said.

“It’s very clear that we are going to focus on the science of drugs...so the way I see it working is we will do that and if the ACMD wants to use our science then great.”

Nutt said he had received a very supportive email on Friday from the new interim chair of the ACMD, Professor Les Iversen, who was only appointed this week.

“He welcomed the new committee and said he hoped we can work together,” Nutt said.

The Home Office on Friday said it had no comment on the launch of the new organization and said the ACMD, a statutory body, would continue to influence government policy.

“When reviewing drugs harms the ACMD routinely consider evidence and reports from a wide range of sources, including external experts.” A spokesman said that would not change.

The body, which first met on Thursday, will focus on three work programs over the next three months.

One will be on the dangers of so-called “herbal high” substances, smoking mixtures which have grown in popularity in the UK and which Nutt classed as dangerous when he worked at the ACMD.

Another will work on developing more flexible ways of “determining drug harms” and the third will examine the dangers of the growing recreational use of the animal tranquilizer ketamine.

Editing by Keith Weir

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