Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/02/11/ecstasy_upgraded/

Jacqui Smith ecstatically ignores more scientific advice

Don't let statistics get in the way of making stuff up

By John Oates

Posted in Government, 11th February 2009 13:40 GMT

Jacqui Smith is set to again ignore scientific advice on drug misuse by rejecting advice on reclassifying ecstasy.

The Home Office will ignore a report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which has just finished a detailed examination of the actual harm caused by ecstacy. The group suggested moving ecstacy from Class A, which it shares with cocaine and heroin, to Class B along with speed. Ketamine is Class C along with Temazepam and anabolic steroids. Possession of a Class A drug can lead to up to seven years in prison.

Home Office Minister Alan Campbell said: "Ecstasy can and does kill unpredictably. The Government has a duty to protect the public and firmly believes that ecstasy should remain a Class A drug. As the ACMD says, the long-term effects of ecstasy use cannot be ruled out. We are not prepared to send a message to young people that we take ecstasy less seriously.”

Campbell's letter to the ACMD said: "The ACMD also report that whilst used in the UK for 20 years, the long terms (sic) effects of Ecstacy use 'cannot be ruled out'". That's the kind of drug-free, clear thinking we've come to expect from the Home Office.

Smith also ignored scientific advice when she upgraded cannabis from C to B even though downgrading it had led to less people taking it. Maybe we could save some money by just sacking these scientists rather than paying them to offer advice which the government will then ignore.

Last month Professor David Nutt of the University of Bristol wrote an opinion piece for the Journal of Psychopharmacology which compared society's perceptions of risk of taking ecstacy with other activities. The light-hearted piece compared "equasy" or Equine Addiction Syndrome with perceived risks of drugs.

The piece found equasy, or horse riding, caused acute harm to a person once in 350 episodes while ecstacy caused acute harm once in 10,000 episodes.

Nutt asked: "So why are harmful sporting activities allowed, whereas relatively less harmful drugs are not? I believe this reflects a societal approach which does not adequately balance the relative risks of drugs against their harms... The general public, especially the younger generation, are disillusioned with the lack of balanced political debate about drugs."

Nutt also said: "This lack of rational debate can undermine the trust in government in relation to drug misuse and thereby undermining the government’s message in public information campaigns." Nutt reportedly got a bollocking from Smith for his contribution to rational debate. The article is available here (pdf)

But it is not all Jacqui's fault - the media also got some blame for confusing the public. Nutt said a ten year study of media reporting found the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol was one in 250, versus one in 50 for diazepam and every single death from ecstacy was reported.

The Home Office has also rejected an ACMD suggestion to offer testing of pills and powders for personal use. ®