‘Curb drink culture’ says drugs expert David Nutt – The Guardian
New restrictions are needed on Britain’s drinking culture, which is behind a huge rise in deaths of men and women under 50, according to the government’s former chief drug adviser, sacked a decade ago for claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
Ahead of a speech to the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies on 30 October, 10 years after the then home secretary Alan Johnson fired him, Prof David Nutt said the net contribution of successive governments to drugs policy had been to make things worse.
Nutt said alcohol was now the leading cause of death in men aged under 50 and would soon be the leading cause of death in women under 50. “The big upwards inflexion in alcohol-related deaths came when we allowed it to be sold in supermarkets. When I was a teenager, alcohol could only be bought in a pub or an off-licence,” he said. “Access to 24-hour drinking through supermarkets and corner shops has led to a massive increase in deaths from drinking.”
He said alcohol was now a third of what it cost in real terms compared to 50 years ago. “We have to use rational policies on alcohol. We can’t let the drinks industry dictate terms – how can it be that we still allow alcohol to advertise on TV when it costs the health service £3bn a year and policing £6bn?
“Our drug policy is not based on reducing harm,” said Nutt, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Responsibility for regulating the drugs market should be switched from the Home Office to the Department of Health and Social Care, he said
“The Home Office is about crime. It will say ‘great we are reducing the use of opiates’, but deaths are rising because we’ve pulled our support for people who are using opiates.”
He drew a comparison with Portugal,where heroin use has been decriminalised. “We have data from the last 15 years showing opiate deaths have fallen to a third of what they were before. Our deaths have gone up by two-thirds.”
Nutt cited several examples where he believed government policy had increased harm. These included the banning of mephedrone. “It was banned because an election was coming up and [Alan] Johnson decided he had to be hard on this new drug,” Nutt said. “Mephedrone resulted in a massive reduction in cocaine deaths because people switched and mephedrone was safer than cocaine.”
Testing prisoners for smoking cannabis had “massively contributed to the rise of spice,” Nutt said. “There were 16 deaths last year from spice in prisons. There has never been a death from cannabis.”And the failure to treat Britain’s heroin problem had opened up the market to “even more potent opioids like fentanyl,” he claimed.
Nutt said he had been angered by his sacking which followed his earlier clash with Johnson’s predecessor, Jacqui Smith, when he compared the 100 deaths a year from horseriding in the UK with the 30 linked to ecstasy.
His dismissal triggered dismay in criminal justice circles – with many viewing it as proof that the government was not interested in a scientific evidence-based approach to policymaking, a view Nutt shares. “What’s the point of having a scientific adviser if you don’t want to know the truth?” he asked.
Similar concerns were raised earlier this month when Professor Alex Stevens of the University of Kent resigned from the advisory council over concerns that political interference in its appointment process was undermining its independence.
After his dismissal, Nutt went on to establish what became DrugScience, an independent scientific body on drugs in the UK. He is campaigning for cannabis, psilocybin – the psychoactive substance found in magic mushrooms – and MDMA, also known by its street name of ecstasy, to be developed as medical drugs for therapeutic purposes.
“I believe for moral, ethical and health reasons that any drug that is less harmful to the user than alcohol should be available, probably in pharmacies or licensed premises,” said Nutt. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “Drugs can devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we are taking action to: reducing demand; restricting supply; building recovery; as well as taking global action with our international partners. We are committed to reducing the use of drugs and the harms they cause and the Home Office has commissioned a major independent review to examine these issues.“
This article originally appeared here in https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/oct/20/curb-drink-culture-says-drugs-expert-david-nutt