Nutt unveils independent alternative on drugs

Fourteen-strong committee to provide non-political scientific advice, ousted professor says. Zoë Corbyn reports

January 15, 2010

The independent scientific adviser who was sacked by the Home Secretary for “campaigning” against the Government’s policy on drugs has launched an alternative committee to examine the science of the illegal substances.

David Nutt, a professor at Imperial College London, was sacked as chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) by Alan Johnson last October.

The decision provoked outrage in the scientific community, prompting fears that it set a dangerous precedent for the treatment of independent scientific advisers.

Now Professor Nutt has joined forces with four of the five members of the ACMD who resigned in protest at his sacking to launch the 14-strong Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, which will provide alternative scientific advice on the subject.

“This is the strongest grouping of scientists looking at drugs we have ever had in this country,” he said at the launch of the committee today.

“We will provide the truth about drugs unfettered by political interference.”

Professor Nutt, who will chair the body, told Times Higher Education that he and his colleagues were sending a message to the Home Secretary that drug science “should be done independently”.

This was something the Government had always resisted, he said.

He added that he hoped the ACMD would make use of the advice issued by the committee, and that the Government would even commission it to undertake certain work.

He also hoped that other scientific advisory groups would follow the new model, which he said amounted to “the first truly independent committee” in the field.

Funding for the committee, which Professor Nutt said was secure for three years, is being provided by a private benefactor, hedge fund manager Toby Jackson.

He is to provide £150,000 a year, supplemented by donations from the public.

Professor Nutt added that he had received a “supportive email” from Les Iversen, the pharmacology specialist this week named as interim chairman of the ACMD.

He said Professor Iversen had told him that he welcomed the new committee and hoped they could work together.

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