Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pre-election prohibition fast-track for mephedrone

In Prime Minister's Questions yesterday Gordon Brown came up with this response to a question calling for a ban on mephedrone:
The Prime Minister: I am very concerned about what my hon. Friend has told me, and I send my sincere condolences to Jordan’s family and to their friends. We are committed to preventing young people from starting to take drugs. The advice is clear that, just because a substance is legal, that does not make it safe.

A valid point - tobacco, alcohol, paracetamol, nutmeg, prozac etc.
He continued:
We are concerned specifically about the harms of mephedrone, and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] is considering that and similar compounds as an absolute priority. We will receive its advice on 29 March, and subject to that advice we will take immediate action. We are determined to act to prevent this evil from hurting the young people of our country.

'Evil'? If mephedrone is 'evil' because it can hurt people, then alcohol and tobacco (which kill respectively, 100 and 300 a day in the UK), must truly be the work of Satan. This is hyberbolic twaddle straight out of the pre-election manual: 'How to garner votes in marginal constituencies by appealing to populist fears and nationalistic prejudices'.
As for ACMD, when exactly did the Government start getting so impatient for their expert advice? Certainly not when they called for the downgrading of Ecstasy from Class A to B. Or when they said cannabis should be left as Class C.
Truth be told it is already pretty clear where the ACMD are going on this.
But what would Brown do if they actually did call for enough time just to gather the evidence properly, rather than support a populist knee-jerk reaction?
Or they called for a detailed review, now or even at a later date, of any unintended consequences of absolute prohibition (including those identified by the head of the UNODC) e.g. creating a massive criminal black market, diverting money from health to criminal justice, displacing users to more harmful substances, marginalising and criminalising large numbers of otherwise law abiding users? Or causing an increase in the use of hazardous cutting agents, or the drug becoming of highly variable strength leading to increased overdose risk, or an increase in acquisitive crime if prices rise dramatically? Many of which, at least anecdotally, appear to be happening in the Channel Islands where a ban already exists.
Or, heaven forfend, what if the ACMD even called for the creation of a new holding category? Whether Class D, with tightly regulated legal sales including the provision of detailed health and use advice as suggested by the ACMD's last Chair David Nutt. Or Category X as suggested by the UK Drug Policy Commission, while all the possible options were properly modeled, to make sure we took the best route to minimize harms to individuals and society?
David Nutt's latest from the Evening Standard is well worth a look, and bearing in mind his treatment from the Government, the most likely outcome for ACMD of seeking a genuinely evidence-based review, would be finding themselves all sacked...
Update 26 March:
This is how the Daily Mail ran Nutt's views after the Standard rewrote their own story.


Anonymous said...

I thought that the ACMD had lost it's scientific quorum and were thus presently statutorily disabled from fulfilling their role. Can anyone confirm this?

Martin Powell said...

Hot off the press...just rang the Home Office.

ACMD is technically inquorate at the moment, but members are being co-opted and will be sworn in on Monday to remedy this ready to sign off the mephedrone recommendation. They have, according to the Home Office, been at the ACMD meetings today though.

The Home Office wouldn't tell me who the experts are.

So we will have a group containing a number of as yet unknown experts, pronouncing on a subject for which virtually no evidence has been gathered.

strayan said...

I congratulate Brown for acknowledging that legal drugs aren't always safe (unless you had an IQ lower than it takes to grunt you would have already figured that out).

Mephedrone, however, is not advertised as drug for human consumption. But neither is:

butane, paint, petrol, solvents, dry cleaning fluid, nail polish remover, nitrous oxide and other often inexpensive, household and industrial products.

Will those product be banned too?

thepoisongarden said...

Reading the Evening Standard piece you linked to made me wonder what we're going to learn in the next few weeks.

I know scientists are scientists and doctors are doctors but they are also subject to emotional responses.

Is there a risk that the outstanding post mortems will come down on the role of mephedrone more harshly than if there were not so much attention on these cases?

If, repeat 'if', the science says it wasn't mephedrone's fault, the chances of anyone in government or most of the media accepting that seem to me to be small.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Martin - sounds like they are running a business trying to pull one over the shareholders. Really one would expect the science c'tee to have actually been involved rather than just to make the target at the last minute. They are fundamentally making a nonsense of the whole purpose of the ACMD. Shame on Les Iverson for being the puppet in this charrade.

david said...

It has been quite interesting watching Transform struggle with a thought through and suitably intellectual & sound response to to a new and LEGAL drug which seems on the emerging evidence and expert opinion (eg Iversen) to be damaging and dangerous to humans.

Nutt is apparently against knee jerk reactions but that has not stopped him recommending Mephedrone be handed out in night clubs.

Transform never says or does anything that I have observed that will help in reducing the harm drugs do and improving the culture around drug use. A great pity. Your campaigning zeal could be better used.

Danny K said...

David (Raynes I think?),
I think we've been pretty clear about not doing anything too quickly. We don't know enough about Mephedrone yet.
Blueprint is very clear about how to deal with amphetamines and club drugs.
Dunno where Les Iverson's getting his info from, but he hasn't shared it with the rest of the world yet.
David Nutt talked about regulated supply, not handing it out.
David, you're ideologically opposed to what we stand for, so I'm not surprised that we disappoint you.
Lastly, you never did tell us whether you'd support an evidence-based impact assesment of criminalisation and alternatives. Until you do I think we will have little grist for a dialogue mill.

thepoisongarden said...

People like david and Mel P in the Spectator are making the mistake of assuming that people are taking mephedrone because it is legal.

People take mephedrone because it is mephedrone. As the HASC noted some seizures of 'cocaine' contain less than 5% of the alkaloid and in Hampshire, recently, two men were released without charge after the 1,000 or so 'ecstasy' pills they were found carrying turned out to contain no MDMA at all.

Far from causing problems for those of us who oppose prohibition the mephedrone story demonstrates what happens when substances are not subject to any sort of quality control.

Anonymous said...

If anyone held any hope of getting any sense from the Liberal democrats - forget it. Here they are in the Commons yesterday - the life-taking illiberal prohibition being knee-jerked through Parliament without thought or even the ACMD members having seen the report is just too little-too late for them.

Chris Huhne (Eastleigh) (LD): The Liberal Democrats certainly welcome the Government's intention to classify mephedrone, but the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs started looking at the drug a year ago. The Home Secretary must surely accept that, if it were not for his meddling in the work of the ACMD and the subsequent resignation of, among others, Dr. Les King-not any old ACMD member, but the person chairing the council's working group on mephedrone-this harmful and possibly fatal substance could have been banned months ago.


David said...

You say:
"People like david and Mel P in the Spectator are making the mistake of assuming that people are taking mephedrone because it is legal".

It is usually a bad debating tactic to attribute views to other people then go on to debate them.

I think people take mephedrone becaue it is mephedrone, just the same reasons as you in fact.

I do try to stand back from the issue a little and ask just why the UK has the drug using culture it has, to the extent it has.

Also why our using culture for illegal or legal drugs is often worse than anywhere else in Europe.

Mephedrone is an interesting study, it came out of nowhere. Has its legality played a part in promoting it? Undoubtedly most people would say, yes, probably.

Will many people want to use it if it is made illegal,again, yes, probably.

A deeper question, one which Transform does not seem to engage with is the ultimate capacity of our society and individuals to be much MORE harmed by legal or illegal drugs than we are now.

As alcohol in particular shows us, the scope is huge.

Danny has been recently asked what would be the unintended consequences of drug legalisation on the Transform model.

He really struggled with an answer, it was fascinating to see, almost as though the question had never ocurred to him. I have known him a long time, he is not normally stumped for words.

I would like to see him and Steve try and address this issue. What type of society would we have in 40 years if Danny gets his way, what would be the downsides, would society be worse off than we are now, with all the imperfections of the present system.

Does Transform accept the huge potential for INCREASED TOTAL & PERSONAL HARM, under a legalised/normalised model?

If it does not, why not? Why should what has happened with alcohol not happen with other drugs-the ubiquity of enormous personal & social harm?

I think mephedrone gives us a clue.

I watch Transform struggle intellectually with a "legal" drug, that appears so damaging. Indeed I am fascinated.

It is very interesting to note that Professor Iversen said of David Nutt (and Nutt's comments on Mephedrone) that "he has lost contact with reality".

Now Professor Iversen is somone who has argued for drug legalisation. He claims to have changed his views. Is it possible he has begun to see the "unforseen consequences " that Danny avoids?

There could be many more of these "legal" drugs. Our society now shows an almost infinite capacity to use them, regardless of personal risk. This may be a seminal moment in the ongoing debate.

The cultural change that brought us to this situation is my main interest. Are we content with it? Is it what Danny & Steve really want?

Synchronium said...

Here's the main part of the ACMD report:

I'll post the appendices when I've got the chance.

Steve Rolles said...

David; All of the issues you raise are discussed in detail in Transform's recent Blueprint publication, including unintended consequences and alcohol/tobacco policy.

Sunshine Band said...

I hear there is a High Ct challenge this week on the narrow issue of due process challenging the legality of the decision to ban cathinones.