New drugs panel could undermine ACMD's position

January 21, 2010

Concerns have been raised about the potential impact of a new independent drugs advisory panel on the effectiveness of its official counterpart.

The Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs was launched last week by David Nutt, the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). Professor Nutt was sacked from the position by Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, for "campaigning" against government policy.

The new 14-strong committee includes four of the five ACMD members who resigned in protest at the sacking last October. It will produce its own scientific advice on drugs "unfettered by political interference", Professor Nutt said.

But this week, Colin Blakemore, the former chief executive of the Medical Research Council, warned that if the two bodies took different stances on evidence, it could "damage" the ACMD and "reduce the impact of its advice".

"The important thing is to establish a relationship between the ACMD and all the other groups that advise on drugs policy," he said.

Professor Nutt, chair of the new body, said he hoped the ACMD would use the advice it produced and that the Government would commission it to undertake work.

He told Times Higher Education that he and his colleagues were sending a message that drugs science "should be done independently", adding that he hoped the model would be replicated in other areas.

The committee is being funded by hedge fund manager Toby Jackson, who is putting up £450,000 over three years. This will be supplemented by public donations.

Professor Nutt said he had received a "supportive email" from Les Iversen, the pharmacology specialist named interim chairman of the ACMD. He said Professor Iversen had welcomed the new committee and said he hoped they could work together.

The Home Office said there were no plans to change the ACMD's function.

"The ACMD routinely considers evidence and reports from a wide range of sources, including external experts," a spokeswoman said.

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