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Dismissed drugs tsar David Nutt has carried out his threat to set up an independent drugs advisory council to rival the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), from which he was unceremoniously sacked in November.

Nutt was fired from his position as chair of the ACMD for openly criticising government drugs policy, and controversially saying that taking ecstasy was no more dangerous than riding a horse.

The new Independent Council on Drug Harms (ICDH) will hold its first meeting on 14 January, and will have 20 ‘very experienced senior scientists’ in attendance according to a statement made by Nutt.

Media reports also claim that four of the five former ACMD members who resigned as a result of Nutt’s dismissal would be joining the new body – presumably the missing figure is ex-RSC president Simon Campbell, who told Chemistry World in November that ‘having another council which, almost by definition, the government won’t listen to, to me is a complete non-starter and a red herring.’

In a video statement Nutt made shortly before Christmas, he criticised the government’s recently proposed principles for scientific advice, saying they codify the kind of practice that led to him being sacked, and are ‘very lacking in any kind of security for independent scientists’.

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‘I’m absolutely convinced now that there is no future for scientists working in government, particularly in relation to political issues such as drug harms,’ Nutt said, and introduced the ICDH as an independent alternative that will be free from outside meddlers (or ‘a complex regimentation of advisers from other areas of society’ as he more diplomatically puts it).

How the advice from Nutt’s new organisation will compare with that of the ACMD, particularly given that some scientists will apparently be members of both bodies, will be interesting to see.

Some of the projects that Nutt says the ICDH will be working on are a definitive guide to the risks of ‘legal highs’, and a set of guidelines explaining in the relative harms of drugs compared to other activities including – you guessed it – horse riding.

Anna Lewcock

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